How to have a dialogue with students about healthy social media consumption

Posted at 12:28 AM, Dec 19, 2021

On social media it’s all fun and games. Until it’s not. Recent trends on TikTok have put schools on alert this year.

First, it was the “devious lick challenge,” where students around the country vandalized school property, or the “slap the teacher challenge,” or even an unclear threat of violence that circulated, where although officials say it wasn’t credible, it still caused schools in town to work law enforcement to ensure security.

It's important to keep conversations going with students, parents and teachers to be prepared when they surface.

“We never want to be in front of them knowing more, or behind them knowing less,” Kim Karr Executive Director of #ICANHELP said.

It’s all about a conversation, but normally when it comes to content sharing on social media good or bad, students are more likely to turn to their peers than adults, according to Karr. With previously mentioned social media challenges circulating on TikTok, Karr added it’s important for students to feel comfortable speaking to an adult.

“When a kid comes to you and says, ‘hey I’ve got this Snap,’ you don’t say, ‘well you can’t be on it. You’re not supposed to be on it.’ It’s about building that trust of saying ‘hey, i know this isn’t the right time, but great job,” Karr said. “‘I’m glad you’re reporting this to me, and really celebrate when they’re doing the right thing.”

The right thing includes reporting concerning content to a teacher, or even reporting it on the app itself, and getting your peers to report it too.

Sydney Kennedy, a high school junior and specialist with #icanhelp recalls when she spoke to a teacher she trusts about a photo that was circulating at her school regarding a gun threat. She explained how that trust went a long way:

“After further researching, we saw that it was from a school states and states over. It wasn’t even for us, but was circulated and passed through, making it seem like it was super relevant but that’s the thing with social media,” Kennedy said. “You never know where it actually starts. It’s just passed on and screenshotted, but just being able to talk about it and truly get to the bottom of it, is the most important thing."

A 3rd grade teacher from Bakersfield, Josh King said that his school starts the academic year with tools to help them become good “digital citizens,” but the conversations should also start at home. For younger kids, it’s parental controls, for older kids, it’s dialogue.

“[Parents can ask] their kids, ‘hey what’s going on on your phone, what apps do you have? Can I see your phone? And not doing it in an intrusive way, but just having those healthy conversations can make a really big difference,” King said.

TikTok and social media is not all bad, according to King. He creates positive teacher-centric content on TikTok and has even built a community of fellow-educators who speak to one another on how to handle these situations.

"I asked them, ‘hey what do you do for digital citizenship? How do you share with your class the do's and don'ts?” King said. “All teachers might be doing something different, but at the end of the day, we want to make sure kids are being safe online."