Education has a huge opportunity: to evolve and usher in a new era of professional development for children today via social media.
Social media companies are rightfully being held to account for harmful content on their sites, which is an important and essential step. The slow but steady elimination of 1.3bn anonymous accounts on Facebook in the first half of 2018, for example, is a welcome development. But progress on this front is snail-like. Only now are we starting to see legislators turn their attention to tackle online abuse and its perpetrators head on.
Parents are understandably anxious about the effect social media is having on their children and the consequences brought about by irresponsible use and harmful content. As head of an all-girls school, I am shocked that in Europe alone, nine million girls have watched some kind of violence online by the time they are 15 years old. There’s no denying more needs to be done to protect children online. What’s more, unrestricted access to a screen, much like a sugar addiction, can lead to unhealthy obsessions. More than half of teens have self-identified having an obsession with social media.
That’s why we’ve developed a range of programmes for our girls from as young as seven to address the dangers of social media and turn them into something positive, even as a tool for professional development. From informing them of what being in a healthy relationship online looks like, to helping them understand the implications of their online footprint after they’ve posted, we are leading the charge to ensure the realities of social media match the values we want to see in our children.
Focusing on the dangers makes us lose sight of what social media has to offer as a force for social good. Let us not forget that the origins of social media are rooted in a desire to bring people together, to interact, debate, and develop fresh connections.
When our children grow up they require significant internet literacy to be successful. At Blackheath High School we encourage our students to use social media to find and connect with alumnae via our own app, Rungway. Our Head Girl Team run the Blackheath High Sixth Form Instagram, giving them professional experience in how to use social media to run a business, encouraging entrepreneurship and creativity online.
As teachers, we share a responsibility to ensure something so intrinsic to teenage life today is being used as a force for good. Two things are for certain: education does not exist in a vacuum and social media is here to stay. Ensuring children are safe online will always be paramount. But I would argue actively denying them access to social media is counterproductive to fostering a healthy, positive and productive relationship with it.
As teachers we have the responsibility to be dynamic stewards of our students’ development. We must alter curricular goals based on changing environments. We must work in tandem with parents and their children to provide them with the skills they need to excel. This must be our call to action: to teach the next generation not just how to be safe online, but to use social media as a tool to make the world a better place.
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