I was very nervous when we started our debate and my nerves ran high until the end of class. I was so in the mind set of go, that when we broke into break out groups for the second debate my brain hadn’t caught up and I thought I was in the debaters room. Needless to say my fellow students were greatly confused by my concerned “I don’t think I’m supposed to be in this room.” Well that’s in the past and I can now hang that anecdote on a collection of other embarrassing moments.
As with many of us I was a little late signing up and ended up going for an argument I didn’t totally agree with. I do feel that real world connections are important and can create stronger, and in some cases more honest, bond. Films like The Social Dilemma also created a anger towards the larger tech companies that run the more prominent social media sites. That being said previous classes I have taken made me question some of my distrust of social media and required me to push past my preexisting prejudice.
I’ve seen the dark side of youth interacting online and those instances can overwhelm what I know can be a useful tool. Thankfully my jaded attitude did help prepare me for the debate, knowing some of the arguments that would be coming our way.
Agree made some interesting arguments to start, that social media pulled kids inside, disrupted physical social connections, increased the amount of targeted marketing, predatory behaviour, mental health, and robbed kids of an “authentic life.”
Unlike a lot of previous media where these effects have been exaggerated and most studies showed that the impact was not there, studies have shown direct connections to social media impacting mental health. The video by Dr. Brenna Hicks, that Agree provided, was particularly damning.
As we mentioned however this focused study can often be a result of that initial fear of a new technology, typically written from the older generation that views anything new with skepticism. There are fewer studies that examine the positive correlation with young people and social media. Children and teens that were isolated either due to culture, community or location now had a way to reach out to others. They were isolated in the physical world and connected in the digital space.
Returning to the video by Dr. Brenna Hicks; she said that in recent years more of her clients have admitted to depression, suicidal thoughts, cutting, etc., and stated that the only change has been the amount of time spent on phones. While I am not denying there is a connection to social media and targeted bullying, there is also a much greater awareness of mental health struggles. There is less discrimination, more open conversations and more ownership. As someone who has struggled with mental health for much of my life, I can tell you there is a huge difference between how kids approach mental health now and how they did when I was there age. You could connect this to how we address it in school as well, but social media has definitely opened up the doors a little more.
As we mentioned in the debate virtual support groups have created safe spaces for any number of young people. Organizations have taken advantage of this and adjusted how they reach out to young people (Kids Help Phone) and young people themselves have taken up the
That might be the true strength in social media, providing people with power to change the discourse themselves. Sweet et al., (2020) provide direct examples of how children with disabilities were able to create social relationships and increase their self-determination in a way they could never do in the physical world. Hannah Alper used a blogging platform to speak out on issues that concerned her and other youth. These early lessons became the building blocks for strong and supportive young adults.
Anecdotally I have noticed a drastic shift in the last few years on how my students talk about social media. They are incredibly savvy on what dangers to look for and how to handle challenges when they appear. My biggest worry used to be that when I was a kid I could at least go home to avoid the bully and kids now a days are followed into the digital space. However as they have been taught strategies in school and learned from the previous generations of users, some of them have more tools than I do as an adult. I was a frequent target when I was a child. Those bullies showed me I was weird and alone and those I reached out to just fell back on the lesson they were taught as a kid; ignore them or punch them back. I was taught to swim by being thrown in.
As an adult I have started to learn the skills many of my students already have. In effect I have learned how to swim. Now I am trying to teach others, but this time they’ll learn with a life jacket.
Debate #6: Phantom Ring
As I mentioned above my adrenaline was still running high when the second debate began. The irony was not lost on me that I kept reaching and then putting down my phone as it began. I wanted to reach for my digital pacifier and text my wife.
I work in a school that covers Pre-K to 12. Within my time there they banned smart devices for students until they reach high school. The reason matches much of what Agree said. They were distracted and were using devices to take pictures of people unknowingly, post online and bully. They back it up to. Students caught can lose their phone for up to 2 weeks. We are an exception in a lot of ways and most of our parents backs us up. This has lead to some changes in how I teach. I used to allow students to bring in technology on certain days to add more devices for online research. I now have to make a more strategic choice. As Selwan and Aagaard (2020) state, it forced me to reexamine how I use devices in education. I also have more control over which devices I need to be aware of. When we use devices it is a limited time and my supervision is direct, controlled and can be relaxed when we put those devices away.
Nomophobia, mentioned by Agree and Breanna Carels (2019) is also very real. When a phone is present and students know that with a quick glace they can check for texts, updates, etc., there is an urge to check. I have spoken to my high school colleagues and they have mentioned that rush when students are given the chance to grab their devices. I have that same problem in my free time. Agree’s phrase “Disconnect to Connect” can be very relatable. When we are forced to put down our devices we can separate ourselves from the outside world and connect to the moment.
Disagree mentioned an important part of allowing smart devices at school, they are not used at will. Whether there is a “phone hotel” or specific class bans, students can be limited by their access. As they mentioned they can also allow for 1 to 1 ratio of technology, something many schools can only dream of. If we tried to overcome this by allowing laptops or tablets to try and avoid the issues with cellphones we run into what Sam Kerry discussed. There are far more students with easy access to a smartphone than a laptop. While the digital divide is real, this (at least anecdotally) seems to be a common solution.
There is also the added benefit of having devices to teach students how to effectively use social media. As is apparent with the beginning of this post, I feel that teaching students how to safely use social media is an important skill. We know that our students are already participating, and making real life connections to in class lessons is much easier with those devices. This does contain risks, but in a controlled environment it holds potential. This can be seen in Kunnath and Jackson’s 2019 study of students use of twitter.
As with social media from our debate, I feel that in a controlled and measured way, cell phones can be effective tools to support classrooms. We live in a technological world and our students are a part of it. We can take advantage of their embrace of it. As Disagree noted, until we find some magical source of funding and all schools can provide a 1 to 1 devices, we should not ignore the free resources that are carried in to schools everyday.