Social media is ubiquitous in the life of a modern teen. Students are never more than a click or swipe away from access to information and people all over the world. In the early days of the internet, this type of unprecedented access was heralded as a good thing. But with the advent of smartphones, schools quickly began to see the downside; it can be a distraction. Because of the distractions it causes, most schools have put systems and rules in place to completely avoid ever having to deal with students and their social media.

This is the wrong approach. While it is completely understandable that schools would want to avoid dealing with social media, there are real consequences for students when they don’t.

Why should schools teach students social media skills?

1.       Mistakes are forever on the internet.

Students are often caught up in a type of Peter Pan malaise and fail to see how actions they take today have consequences. What students say, post or do on a social media account today will have ramifications down the road. Yes, you can delete posts off of a social media account, but it is likely still archived and visible through secondary sites. For example, the Library of Congress, until very recently, archived every single tweet.

Major League Baseball player Josh Hader recently learned this lesson the hard way. Hader made the MLB All-Star team for the first time in his young career. He wasn’t able to enjoy it long because after the game he faced questions about objectively racist and homophobic tweets he made as a 17-year-old. He apologized and explained that those tweets don’t reflect who he is which may be true. However, for the rest of his career “Hader” and “racist” will appear together in Google search results. It makes one wonder if a little social media training could have changed this outcome.

2.       Social media drama impacts school.

Many schools took the initial stance of ignoring social media use by students. Then the drama from social media spilled into the hallways.

It is not uncommon for schools to deal with the fallout of social media beef or bullying. Many fights and conflicts on social media come to a boiling point where students see each other in real life…most likely that place is at school. Cyberbullying takes place online but it still typically happens between kids who attend the same school and many states hold the school responsible.

The bottom line is that if student social media use negatively affects student life within the school then schools need to handle it. Social media training can limit the negative impact during the school day.

3.       Employers are starting to crack down on inappropriate social media behavior.

In the early days of the internet, employers viewed social media of their workers as largely irrelevant.  That time is over.

Today employers are routinely suspending and firing their employees for posts and comments made on their private social media account. And for good reason, because a single viral story about an employee can tank a company’s profits and reputation.

If employers are going to be holding students accountable for their social media behavior in their adult life, then schools should be training them for it during their teen life.

4.       Social media can be dangerous.

Many bad people use social media for nefarious purposes. Scamming is probably the most common form of deceit on social media, but it gets much worse than that. Many child predators use social media also.

How does a 14-year-old girl know that the guy liking her post and spamming emojis in her comments is another teenager versus a 48-year-old man?  How does she know that the person she’s formed an online relationship with on KIK or Snapchat, is actually the person pictured in the avatar? The answer is they never truly do. Students need to know what they don’t know because sexual predators are using this knowledge gap to prey on minors.

5.       Social media is now part of life daily life.

Even if you completely ignore all of the potential negative aspects of social media, you are still left with the overwhelming fact that social media is a huge part of daily life in general.

People need social media skills for lots of things such as job searches and discerning real news from fake news. As a matter of fact, many jobs now require a certain level of social media ability just like they do with Microsoft Office.

Social media is not going away and is only becoming a larger part of our daily routine. If schools believed that it was important for students to learn about the internet in the early 2000s then surely, they must believe the same about social media today. Social media has evolved since myspace and its no longer just for fun.

The bottom line is that the rise of social media necessitates schools teaching it. Schools that neglect to teach these skills will leave their students worse off in the future and social media drama around conflict and cyberbullying may make them regret it far sooner. With all of the available resources today, there is really no excuse for schools not to teach students the valuable social-media skills they need.

This post was written by Andrew Pillow and originally ran on the Indy Education Blog


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