Social Media And Interpersonal Relationships: Is this Affecting Students?Recognizing the influence of social media and how to help students combat these impacts
I often visit classrooms four out of five days of the week in my role as a schools manager, and I regularly ask how many students have access to a social media account. This is increasingly relevant not only in middle and high schools, but also in elementary schools as more and more students are navigating the digital world. Over the last three years in my role, I’ve seen countless hands go up when I ask this question. Social media is on the rise, and students need our help navigating their online relationships and practice digital safety and wellness.
I think we can all agree that we have seen a dramatic increase in social media use, and technology use as a whole, inside the classroom. On average, Americans check their phones about 52 times a day. This easy access to social media leaves significant opportunities for students to engage in many forms of communication with their peers and influencers. With anything in life, finding the right balance is a vital part of a healthy mindset and approach to social media. In this article I dig a little deeper into just how social media can impact students in the classroom and ways educators can help students maintain a balanced digital presence.
The average modern student loves and uses social media and technology as a main form of communication. This can make it challenging for teachers and parents to know how students talk to one another and when to address bullying, whether cyber or in-person. Some students even report feeling awkward with face-to-face interactions, because sending a text is easier and more comfortable. By avoiding face-to-face communication, students also may miss out on critical interpersonal skills, such as conflict resolution, understanding body language, and reading social cues. We can help students by guiding intentional conversations around these topics. If you’re not sure where to start, I recommend this emotions discussion guide on understanding how others feel and how to understand, manage, and express one’s own emotions
Another unique aspect of social media is that people tend to only post “insta-worthy” images, often displaying a staged view of both life and healthy #RelationshipGoals. Instead of seeing the hard work that makes a healthy relationship, whether friendly or romantically, young users only see this idealistic view. Taking students through this relationships-themed lesson plan may help them better understand the role that effective communication plays in any relationship.
The increased presence of middle and high school students on social media raises the question of just how we can keep them safe. Anyone who has an internet-accessible device can easily access social media. As a result, students are exposed to more unfiltered communication than ever before, making it challenging for parents, teachers, and others to moderate and intervene. How do we know if a student is being bullied online when we can’t see it? Some students may be comfortable talking about their problems to a guidance counselor or teacher, but what if they aren’t? How do we teach them to be comfortable with telling someone? Opening the lines of communication can make a huge difference. Giving students a framework to evaluate and interpret digital content is another way to set students up for a healthy approach to social media. This discussion guide on digital connections can help start the conversation about social comparison, cyberbulling, and when to seek help.
With social media and modern TV, teaching students how to recognize unhealthy relationships is important and frequently falls on the teacher. How exactly do we teach that? Social media doesn’t typically show the backstory of content. This lack of a behind-the-scenes makes it that much more difficult to recognize unhealthy relationships. How do we, as teachers and adults, help students navigate social media and differentiate between healthy and unhealthy #RelationshipGoals?
Jealousy can also result from the many glamorous, unrealistic images being marketed to students on social media. Many of these images are essentially advertising unhealthy ideas to a very impressionable age group, depicting not only unhealthy relationships but also the idea that people need to look and even act a certain way to be liked. For many young students, the number of likes on a post determines self-worth. How “popular” an image is on social media should never define self-worth, but unfortunately, for many this is the case. Using this lesson on analyzing influences may help students start thinking critically about marketing and advertisements and the affect they can have on people.
How to Navigate these #RelationshipGoals
Many schools have begun implementing no-phone policies. While this policy makes sense for most school districts, we still want to empower students to make smart digital decisions for themselves, to find a balance between screen time and offline, and to build healthy relationships.
EVERFI’s Character Playbook is a resource offered at no cost that helps middle and high school students recognize and navigate these #RelationshipGoals and learn how to ask for help when necessary. The course offers six digital lessons, which teach students how to cultivate and maintain healthy relationships during some of their most critical years.
Teachers looking to go more in depth about digital citizenship may also want to check out EVERFI’s free digital lessons on Ignition, Digital Wellness and Safety.