Tag Archives: social media

Teen Social Media Use, Addiction, & Education

This article, “13 right now” by Jessica Contrera came across my twitter feed via Fran Siracusa with the message, “This topic deserves a chat discussion.” It’s one of a few posts I’ve seen published by the Washington Post in their “Screen Age” series and captures the nuances of a 13-year old, Katherine Pommerening and her life online.

It definitely deserves more than a chat discussion as there are so many different layers and issues addressed about which ongoing conversations at the school level with teachers, at the District level, and with parents are necessary.  I may need a series of  blog-posts to work through it all.

Consider this paragraph written about 13 year-old Katherine:

She doesn’t respond, her thumb on Instagram. A Barbara Walters meme is on the screen. She scrolls, and another meme appears. Then another meme, and she closes the app. She opens BuzzFeed. There’s a story about Florida Gov. Rick Scott, which she scrolls past to get to a story about Janet Jackson, then “28 Things You’ll Understand If You’re Both British and American.” She closes it. She opens Instagram. She opens the NBA app. She shuts the screen off. She turns it back on. She opens Spotify. Opens Fitbit. She has 7,427 steps. Opens Instagram again. Opens Snapchat. She watches a sparkly rainbow flow from her friend’s mouth. She watches a YouTube star make pouty faces at the camera. She watches a tutorial on nail art. She feels the bump of the driveway and looks up. They’re home. Twelve minutes have passed.

It infers that teens today are “addicted” to technology and social media which is a common narrative.  In my recent talk to a group of K-5 parents in Mississauga, I was surprised by how many of their questions were around how much time is too much time online and what to do about their child’s “addiction” to technology.

This also touches on the idea that kids have few opportunities to sit and stare at a blank wall thinking about what they can do, because there is a whole world of stuff to do through their cellphones.   Think about a typical routine car ride: in the twelve minutes that Katherine is in the car with her father, there might have been some light banter but mostly silence.  Once upon a time, that silence would have been taken up with staring out the window, thinking about a variety of things.  Now, it can be taken up with reading, writing (texting), and connecting to others.   Adults see this outwardly as an addiction; as a bad thing.

But is it really?

When I talk to (or more aptly get grumpy with ) my own 13-year old about sitting on the couch and checking her feeds her response to me is:  But we aren’t doing anything. You could argue (as Katherine’s dad states in the article) that when we were young, we would be forced to go and do something–playing outside, playing a game, riding a bike, etc… But truthfully she does go out and engage face to face with friends. If we are having dinner, walking the dog, swimming, when she is horseback riding, etc… she is fully engaged and doesn’t have her phone.   To fill up her time, she’d prefer flip through her phone rather than watch t.v.  And truthfully, I have to admit that as a child who has always been a non-reader, she is reading much more on the Snapchat Discover feature than she has ever spent reading a physical book or magazine.  So this isn’t a bad thing either.

Is it addiction?


But are kids “addicted”?  And if so are they addicted to social media or are they addicted to being with her friends?

Cecilie Andreassen of the University of Bergen,  Norway who studied Facebook addiction, found addiction occurred more regularly among younger users than older users. She also identified that people who are anxious and socially insecure use social media more than others, possibly because those who suffer from social anxiety find it easier to communicate via social media than face to face. (Harvey, 2014, pg 1).  I haven’t been a teen for a long time, but there is no doubt that adolescence is the most significant time of social angst in one’s life!

In  “The Invisible Addiction: Cellphone Activities and Addiction among Male and Female College Students,” a study based the online survey responses of 164 college students,  found that approximately 60 percent of college students admit they may be addicted to their cell phone” (Baylor, 2014).

Yet scholars actually can’t agree as to whether or not the social media platform itself that is “addictive” or the functionality of the tool and what it does for the user.  The reality is that “[e]xcessive usage of social media is only beginning to be examined in a modern, media -laden world as a possible psychiatric disorder” (Harvey, 2014, pg 4) as the cultural adoption of these platforms are increasing so dramatically.

danah boyd, in her book, “It’s Complicated: The Networked life of teens is critical of associating the word “addiction” with teen’s engagement with social media. She states, “[t]he overarching media narrative is that teens lack the capacity maintain healthy relationships with social media.  It depicts passionate engagement with technology as an illness that society must address.  It is easier for adults to blame technology for undesirable outcomes than to consider other social, cultural, and personal factors that may be at play” (boyd, 2014, pg 79).  So in the example of parenting or education what are such factors that might be at play?

Cellphone/Social Media dependence the classroom

I have spoken to educators who are so frustrated because even with clear boundaries established in the classroom, teenagers cannot help but check their notifications as they pop up. The addiction narrative is intermingled with the distraction one.  Kids are constantly checking their phones, so we ban them as a common response.  There are so many NO CELLPHONE signs that still adorn school and classroom doors.

And then I read a chapter on Education and Flow, by  Mihály Csíkszentmihályi  which speaks to the theory of “flow”  (a pyschological state whereby you are so involved in an activity that you lose track of time or anything else) and started to think about flow and cellphone distraction and/or dependence.

In one of his studies, Csikszentmihalyi  gives teachers and students a pager.  When the pager goes off, both record exactly what they are doing and thinking at the time.  Take a look at the difference of the teacher response vs the student response:

Flow and Teaching

His conclusion is that the kids didn’t engage with the content in a way that the teacher did. He further goes on to say, “…people will seek out flow anyway. If they can’t find it in school, they will find it somewhere else. (pg 140)”

Today, I would argue that the “somewhere else” is the cell phone  where kids have a whole world of connections and entertainment in their pocket.

In the Baylor university study mentioned above, one college student said, “Cellphones may wind up being an escape mechanism from their classrooms” (Baylor, 2014).  This is a very harsh assessment but one that may give us pause to think about the extent to which our classrooms are places where learning comes alive for students and where they are involved?

My wonderings:

Are students less likely to continually check their cellphones if they are engaged in student-centered, inquiry driven classrooms?

Does teaching and learning which involves cell phones reduce the likelihood of students checking their phones for non-school related tasks?

Is it far better to have cellphones on desks and have conversations about dependence and self-regulation than it does to ban them completely (only to have students sneak them in their desks, take frequent bathroom breaks, and other potential behavioural responses)?

Is teaching self-regulation when it comes to technology use as important as any of the 6 Cs?

Despite the most engaging and interactive classrooms and reflective practices, are students still engaging in problematic behaviours when it comes to using their cellphones/social media excessively?  What are some effective ways to deal with this?

Would love to hear your thoughts and strategies!



Baylor university; cellphone addiction ‘an increasingly realistic possibility,’ baylor study finds. (2014). NewsRx Health & Science, , 60. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.uproxy.library.dc-uoit.ca/docview/1561337547?accountid=14694

boyd, danah (2014). It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. New Haven: Yale
University Press.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Applications of flow in human development and education : The collected works of mihaly csikszentmihalyi (1;2014; ed.). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. doi:10.1007/978-94-017-9094-9

Harvey, K. (2014). Addiction, social media. InEncyclopedia of social media and politics (Vol. 3, pp. 18-19). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781452244723.n5

Screen time guidelines and education

I recently did a talk for parents in Mississauga and in my research came upon this article in Forbes by Jordan Shapiro which speaks to the  American Pediatric Society guideline updates. Interestingly, the American Pediatric Society, which had previously limited screen time to a couple of hours, now recognizes that “screen time is simply time”.  They definitely advocate for balance and moderation, but their approach has really shifted and makes sense to me.

The guidelines can be summarized as follows:

Screentime guidelines


Seems to me, we need to do very little for this list to apply to the classroom and to education in general.

Can we simply replace parenting with teaching?

How long before our Educational institutions just readily accept that technology and/or social media are “just another environment” and an integral  part of teaching and learning?





Social media and education: my research and wonderings

Yesterday, my friend, Jennifer Williams shared a tweet about how to create Facebook with classes. I replied to her that Facebook was blocked in my District, but that it looked great.  A complete stranger (a grad student from India) jumped in and asked how it was possible that Facebook was blocked in America.  Here is our Twitter exchange:

Facebook Blocked Blog

He concluded by saying, “just us having this conversation sitting opposite ends of the world is example enough”.  And indeed this is true.

This post is not meant to criticize Districts that block or don’t block, but more of an exploration of my wonderings prompted by this exchange. I know the dark side of social media exists.  I really do and keeping students safe is the primary concern of educators.  And yet, I am increasing confused around what we even mean by social media and the criteria by which we should determine what (or if) a site is blocked, not blocked.

I have already done some thinking about what social media means in this  blog post prompted by an experience by Carl Hooker, reflecting on the fact that according to teens, everything is social media. But because I am enrolled in a self-directed grad course called, Social Media in Education, I am wondering about academic perspectives and definitions.

Scholars danah boyd and Nicole Ellison define social network sites rather than social media itself in their 2007 paper, Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship, as online communities that allow users  to

(1 ) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system,

(2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and

(3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system (2007)

In It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens, boyd refers to social media as a collection of “sites and services that emerged during the early 2000s including social network sites, video sharing sites, blogging and microblogging platforms, and related tools that allow participants to create and share their own content”  (boyd, 2014, pg 6).

And according to Kaplan and Haenlein (2014),  Social Media is a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content (media content publicly available and created by end users)”

And so I’m not sure if I’m oversimplifying here, but when I consider those definitions, I think of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Music.ly, and Snapchat, but  also Youtube,  Wikipedia, Prezi, and Slideshare.   But can we also include Google Apps for education? and many Curating platforms?  Basically, can’t we say that anything that allows for content creation or remixing and public sharing social media?

Kerric Harvey, in Encyclopedia of social media and politics contemplates the ambiguity as well:

What is Social Media-

–Kerric Harvey, 2014

So, if academics and students have a tough time defining social media, what is the criteria by which Districts make decisions about which “social media” to block?

Something Henry Jenkins says in Participatory Culture in a networked era really resonates with me :

I could see the first wave of young people who had enjoyed extensive access to digital technologies, observing the ways they were incorporating these tools and practices into all different dimensions of their life and work..[but] many adults were shutting down opportunities that were meaningful for young people out of a moral panic response to technological and cultural change.” (pg 36)

I would extend the idea of moral panic to a very real concern about legal and liability implications that often accompany these decisions.  So in the same way that I understand the notion of blocking “social media”, I am perplexed my many questions (listed here in no particular order):

Don’t we want students to generate content not just for themselves but for others?   Do we still associate creation with something that needs to be done in a classroom for a teacher or are we considering the extent to which some of this creation can become part of a more participatory culture?

If we know that learning is social then isn’t sharing learning (including online) something that we should strive for as educational institutions?  Is the problem the extent to which users can communicate with each other (which may be abusive) rather than the sharing itself? If so, is this not a problem that need to be addressed regardless of whether students are sharing face to face or online?

What criteria determines which sites to block and which sites should be used for teaching and learning?  Is it worthwhile for sites to be open for teachers but not students? (especially in elementary) because of age restrictions of many social media sites?

Should (or could) schools determine which sites can/can’t be used based on their own school culture and the input of teachers and students or is this too complicated from an IT perspective?

What are the considerations that all stakeholders need to consider when making these decisions?

Are there Districts that don’t block anything? and if so, how do they ensure the safety and privacy of their students?

Do students sit at the table to help make sense of it all? Can they?

I think Jenkins states it well here:

Right now, we are at a moment of transition. For many of us, we are experiencing a significant expansion of our communicative capacities within a networked culture, yet very little in our past has taught us how to use those expanded capacities responsibly or constructively…It’s confusing, there are ethical dilemmas, none of us know how to use that power…The only way forward is to ask the hard questions, to confront the bad along with the good, to challenges [sic] the inequalities and the abuses. (Jenkins, 2016, pg 25)

I would love to hear your questions and thoughts as I continue to contemplate this topic.




boyd, danah (2014). It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. New Haven: Yale     University Press.

boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication, 13(1), 210-230. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393

Harvey, K. (Ed.) (2014). Encyclopedia of social media and politics (Vols. 1-3). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781452244723

Jenkins, H., Itō, M., & boyd, d. (2015). Participatory culture in a networked era: A conversation on youth, learning, commerce, and politics. Wiley.

Kaplan, A. M., & Haenlein, M. (2010). Users of the world, unite! the challenges and opportunities of social media. Greenwich: Elsevier Inc. doi:10.1016/j.bushor.2009.09.003

Curation Tools, Social Media, and Student Digital Leadership

“The sheer volume of digital information that is available makes it increasingly challenging to find the information you are interested in.  Curation in a digital world isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

–Stephen Dale

As I embark on a new self-directed course called, Social Media in Education at the University of Ontario, Institute for Technology (UOIT), I am set with the task of finding a curation tool to keep track of the various resources I accumulate over the next couple of months.  Because of the content of the course, I am thinking that the curation tool I select, should be public and shareable.

What is curation?

I really like Sylvia Tolisano’s definition of curation:

“…the ability to find, to filter, to evaluate, to annotate, to choose which sources are valuable.” (Valenza, et al. 2014)

Stephen Daly, in his article, Content Curation: The Future of Relevance, reminds us that when we think of curation we think of a museum curator who keeps abreast of trends, listens to what guests are discussing and finds resources that resonate well with those areas.  He states that you no longer need to have studied curation : “social media sharing has enabled anyone to share anything with the world.”  (Daly. 2014, pg 1)

Content Curation Tools

The following are a few content curation tools which I either like or want to explore and what I know about them so far:

Storify (13+) allows me to draw content from a Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or Google Plus feed or from Google in order to create a digital story with annotations.  It’s also very intuitive; I use it regularly to consolidate learning like here and to summarize events.

Diigo allows me to individually or collaboratively bookmark and annotate links, pages, notes, and media.  I have been able to add tags to make my bookmarks searchable as well as add highlight, sticky notes, or screenshots to my libraries (Valenza, pg 63).   The Chrome extension is extremely useful.  I don’t believe there is an age restriction, but you need to sign up with an email.

Flipboard (13+) also has a handy Google Chrome extension and is a place to not just read content, but curate it as well.  I tried this tool out for one of my previous courses and like that I can add a comment or idea to the articles, videos, or photos that I “flip” and that I can also categorize magazines and share them.

Pinterest  My 16 year old uses Pintrest all the time for decorating and recipe ideas and I follow the Edumatch board, but that’s about it.  I’d like to explore how Pintrest might be used in a school or classroom setting especially because of its incredible visual quality; I know some teachers are already having their students create boards for a variety of subjects.

I have been using Google Plus Communities (13 +) more and more lately to share information, links, videos, or project ideas with various groups of people.  I think this platform has great potential as a curation platform.  I am interested in exploring this tool more in this context.

Bundlr is a tool that I learned about through Joyce Valenza, in Curation Platforms.  The tool allows you to create relevant “bundles” using articles, images, videos, tweets, and links and share them.  Out of all these tools it is the one tool I know absolutely nothing about but would like to challenge myself to explore.

I have also personally used Evernote and Symbaloo, to curate and organize articles, websites, images, and blogposts based on themes and ideas.  This blog  (any blog by virtue of tags) serves as a curation tool for my own learning as well.  Many of my friends (especially my Edumatch Voxer PLN),  also use Blendspace, Livebinders, Educlippers, and Scoop-it,.  Like anything when it comes to technology, there are literally a hundred apps and tools that might serve a similar purpose.  Check out this list.

So how many of these tools are currently being used by or taught to students?

The current practice in many schools when it comes to curating information involves citing or annotating resources for one specific unit or project at a time, usually in the form of research notes, a bibliography or annotated bibliography which is submitted it to the teacher and sometimes even graded.  This is good.

And so I asked the Twitterverse via a poll:

Curation Poll

Only about 35 out of 97 people who responded teach students to use online curation tools. This is by no means reliable data–people may have said no because they teach kindergarten or don’t meet the age restrictions or don’t have access to technology.  The results are interesting nonetheless.  As educators we are constantly seeking ways to be more efficient and productive with finding and organizing information, but this hasn’t quite translated to classroom practice. Don’t our students need these same skills?  I think we need to do better than this in 2016, especially when content curation utilizes so many different forms of literacy. Here is a graphic outlining Content Curation Competencies which I modified from Stephen Dale, and to which I applied three sample tools (Pintrest, Flipboard, and Storify).

Content Curation Competencies

Curation and Student Digital Leadership

In the meantime, I randomly Googled myself (a practice I regularly encourage students and teachers to do) and saw that my Symbaloo account came up. This made me think about Student Digital Leadership.

Why? I wonder about the current practice of showing students how to curate information specifically for a class or a teacher, which then never goes anywhere, when we could be teaching students curation tools that can actually contribute to their online presence and allow them to both learn and share their learning in a guided and scaffolded way.  Better?

What if we modelled what content curation looked like in the early years by having a collaborative online curation space, and then helping our kids select and create content for that online space?  This would work especially well in inquiry-rich classrooms where research is happening based on student interests.  Here is a link to a class-created Flipboards by Lisa Noble’s class.

What if students in older grades were able to make decisions about where to curate their work and that part of that decision included a social networking opportunity which allowed them to share their learning as well as actively learning from the curated resources of other students?

And what if we asked students in grade 12 to reflect on their curated resources from grade 9 and the extent to which they feel they have grown as learners and as information gatherers and seekers?

Ideally, you would compare and contrast the tool’s features, check the terms of service to ensure it doesn’t sell your private information and that you are using the tool with the age suggested.  Even better, why not decide as a class what features you deem important and have your students investigate a few of them and decide on which tool(s) they’d like to use for the year?


An emphasis on curation will not only help students to track the plethora of information on the web, and provide them with essential literacy skills but an organizational tool they can readily use if they choose to go to post-secondary.  It also serves to provide students with an opportunity to learn and share their learning and thus foster Digital Leadership skills.


Dale, S. (2014). Content curation: The future of relevance.Business Information Review, 31(4), 199-205. doi:10.1177/0266382114564267

Valenza, J. K., Boyer, B. L., & Curtis, D. (2014). Curation outside the library world. Library Technology Reports, 50(7), 51.

Valenza, J. K., Boyer, B. L., & Curtis, D. (2014). Curation platforms. Library Technology Reports, 50(7), 60.


If Everything is Social Media to teens…

I just read this excellent post by Carl Hooker, The Truth About Teens: Everything is Social Media, shared by George Couros. Hooker speaks about his experiences working with a group of students and the questions he asked them about their social media uses and habits.  You really should read the full post; the activities and responses are awesome!

A couple of the questions really resonates. One was whether or not they believed a deleted photo really disappeared and the other was about which apps kids were using including ones which parents should beware of.  I love the honesty of the kids.

What I found interesting:

-KiK was listed as a messaging tool in this list by the students, but not placed in the “beware” category.  This app has come under scrutiny for cyberbullying (Check out this CNN article) and when I hosted a panel of adults and teens, Tinder also came up as an app to be aware of.

-YikYak was listed (as perhaps it should be), and yet, as I learned from experience, that this is complicated.

One of the main conclusions that came out was that students are using platforms that would not necessarily be considered social media and using them to communicate with one another in similar ways to how they are using social media.

Obviously there are no right or wrong answers and each school community will have different experiences from which to draw their opinions.  It is however clear that there are a whole host of social media sites that can be used for nefarious reasons.  It’s not about the tool, but the user of the tool.  I can use YikYak (as my daughter does) to post silly puns about her day, or I can use it to demean someone annonymously.  I can use Twitter to promote awareness about an organization or an important cause, or I can use it to subtext and demoralize someone. And I can use Youtube to do the same thing.

Any social media tool can be used negatively or positively

And, if indeed teens use many spaces in the same way as they use social media, then is it really effective for us to spend so much time fear-mongering in schools about how bad social media is?  We arbitrarily block sites– I say arbitrarily because the list Hooker generated yielded some apps neither he nor I have heard of, so an IT Dept would not know to block it.  Shouldn’t we instead, be spending more of that time teaching kids how to communicate effectively online and in some of these spaces?

This is on my mind especially because of the events of the other day.  I tweeted out the link to a hashtag that kids had created for the Ontario Secondary School Literacy test. #osslt2016  My daughter and I got a real kick out of the very clever posts by students who had just written the test.  Even EQAO (the governing body overseeing the test) responded light-heartedly:

Then a friend of mine pointed out that there was an extremely inappropriate post in the feed. When I looked, I was mortified. Instinctively, I deleted my tweet and reported the tweet as offensive.  This student basically likened writing the test to wanting to be a suicide bomber and included a photo!

Then I took a closer look.  This was just a grade 10 kid trying to be funny and not really understanding the impact.  I looked at his Facebook page (easy enough to find) and realized from the very innocent profile and posts that he had just made a vast error in judgement.

I instinctively contacted him via Twitter.  It could have gone one of two ways: he could have responded maliciously, or he could have realized his error.  Here is how the exchange went:

Me: This is never ever appropriate. Nor is it funny.  And this tweet can come back to haunt you when you are looking for a job.

Student: (Liked, Retweeted) Thx

Me: You are welcome. Delete it and hopefully no one will see it for now. Good luck!

Student: Kk (Deleted the tweet)

If I wasn’t in this space, I would not have been able to help this student.

This experience has reaffirmed my conviction that we need to spend more time focusing on using social media in positive ways.  When we talk about social media, we can’t always use the fear narrative; but we need to be in these spaces to help students navigate the tricky waters!

Carl Hooker’s post and my own experience have me wondering:

Do we use Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc…in our teaching and learning ? Or are we blocking them and having kids communicate in these spaces on their own?

Do we talk to students about apps that worry them and brainstorm ways to turn possible negative experiences into positives?

Do we explicitly teach students how to comment effectively online, in a variety of places? Give them strategies to respond (or not respond) to inappropriate comments?  Give them challenges to respond positively to change the trajectory of negative posts?

Do we allow our students to comment on the Youtube videos they watch in class or do we just share the link ?   Or do we block Youtube altogether?

Do we help students in school develop an online presence so that when they are “googled” they have positives that outweigh some of the gaps in judgement?

We need to focus on Digital Citizenship AND Digital Leadership in school simultaneously.


Social Identity and Social Media

This week, I have been thinking much about the role of social media in the formation of social identity.

Research indicates that adolescents are deeply concerned about how they appear in the eyes of their peers. “[A]dolescence is an intensely social time when the hunger for belonging, community, social status, and emotional closeness provide the context within which teens discover their identity.”   So too their moral reasoning is based on both personal and external factors and they are developing relationships which are independent of their family relationships.  (Armstrong, 2006 in Adolescent Literacy Guide).

This is not a new phenomena: we all went through the angst of being a teen (for many of us, though, in an analogue world).  We spoke on the phone for hours, fretted about friendships, over-analysed comments made by peers, were heart-broken when we weren’t invited to a party, worried about wearing the right thing, saying the right thing. We tested friendships, lost friendships, gained friendships.  We felt betrayed and buoyed by our peers, felt the pressure to do drugs, smoke, skip school.  And still, we shared our secrets with them and kept our lives guarded from the prying eyes of our parents.

So it was no surprise to me when I read these details from the CNN Special Report, Being 13: Perils of lurking online, last week:

When we asked 13-year olds “What is the worst thing that happened to you on media, their responses included these:

  • Being excluded to some parties.
  • My best friends hung out without me, and posted it on instagram.
  • My friends went out without me and posted pictures on instagram then denied they were out together.
  • Not anything specific, but I don’t like when people post pictures or tweet about a party that I wasn’t invited to.
  • Seeing pictures posted by my friends doing things where I wasn’t included.

Even before the dawn of social media, adolescents cared deeply about fitting in and were hurt when they felt excluded from face-to-face interactions or by seeing the popular kids hang around together. What is different now is that social media affords frequent opportunities for all teens to see pictures of parties they were not invited to and friends having fun without them, images they would be spared if social media did not exist. (CNN, 2015)

The problem with this statement is that social media does exist.  Technology provides a means for teens to connect with their peers, to figure out where they stand in their communities.  Their status updates and the way they are communicating provide one means for them to develop and express a personal and social identity.

I didn’t watch the whole series, so I’m not sure to what extent they dealt with the fear narrative that often accompanies teen use of social media,  but this segment in particular, speaks to issues surrounding social identity including self-confidence, acceptance, and belonging; age-old issues.

Thus, as educators we can’t only focus on their social media personas in a “don’t do this” kind of way.  We need to  teach students to love and respect themselves and each other being explicit about acknowledging the role social media plays.   Just as there has always been a need to address magazine cover models and their artificiality, today, kids need to understand that many of the posts they see are “highly groomed” and “seemingly glamorous” views of the social lives of their peers.

A few Ideas for supporting students to create positive identities


The hashtag. The website Choose2Matter The philosophy via Angela Maiers:

  • You are enough.
  • You have influence.
  • You are a genius.
  • You have a contribution to make.
  • You have a gift others need.
  • Your actions define your impact.
  • You are the change.
  • You matter.

Students need to love themselves and know that they are loved.  They need to respect themselves and others.  Having caring adults support them and their aspirations will help them feel less vulnerable.  We need to raise kids who put people up, not people who thrive on putting others down.

The Power of Words

One of my classmates, Kerri Langer, created a very powerful lesson around the Power of Words.  She had her kindergarten & grade 1 students create posters about their ideas about how words can be powerful.  They created a video called, Kids making a difference one word at a time.

Giving students the opportunity, at every grade, to talk to kids about how the words we choose are significant may go a long way to developing empathy and to explore their sense of “self” in relation to “other”.

I love this video, Color Your World with Kindness.  It shows how small actions can have a powerful impact.

I love this message for younger students. For older students, could they create their own versions of the video answering the question, “What would this video look like if  we included social media interactions”?

In his post, Teaching Empathy: Are we teaching content or students, Terry Heick speaks to the importance of teaching empathy.  He says,

More than anything else though, empathy is a tone. Broken into parts, it is about self, audience, and purpose. It helps students consider:

  • Who am I?
  • Who is “other”? And how? In what functions and degrees?
  • How do we relate? What do we share?
  • What do they need from me, and I from them?

Tribes and Community Circle

I have participated in Tribes training and I love the Tribes Agreements as they can be applied in any classroom at any grade level.

  1. Attentive listening
  2. Appreciation/no put-downs
  3. Mutual respect
  4. Participation/right to pass.

Check out this article, by Wendy Ryan:  Tribes: A Way to Create Positive Climate in the School and Reduce Bullying? shared by Christy Cate

One of the activities within the Tribes training  is the Community Circle, whereby kids sit or stand in a circle and engage in an activity that is risk-free and invites participation from everyone.  The topic may or may not be related to the learning of the day, but is more designed so that kids look each other in the eye, and listen to what each person has to say.  It is designed to build positive rapport in the classroom.

Tap into Interests and Passions

Since adolescence is also a time of uncertainty when it comes to personal strengths and abilities (Adolescent Literacy Guide, pg 10), then tapping into student interests and passions will help them to develop confidence.  This might include using Popular Culture in the classroom, using Inquiry-based learning or an “innovation week” model as a pedagogical approach, and allowing students to select their own reading material.


I adapted this poster from an unknown online source.  I think that it’s a great frame for students (and adults) to use before they communicate face to face or online.


Allow Social Media

Can we talk about compassion, empathy, and/or the power of words today without talking about what this looks like face to face AND online?  If we don’t, do we run the risk of our students thinking that these two worlds, are their identities in these worlds are not the same?

While reading the article, “Using Facebook to Explore Adolescent Identities,” by J Hughes and L. Morrison, based on research study done exploring issues such as cyberbullying, depression, and body image in two grade 9 classes in Toronto,  this stood out for me:

“…This highlights the the need for educators to incorporate a critical analysis of [social media] and its role in identity development, and to start incorporating [social media] as a tool for raising awareness about critical issues facing adolescents.  This would reshape how students think about the potential of social networking sites at such a formative age” (Hughes & Morrison, 2013, pg 13).

So often students comment on each other’s statuses via social media. Could we have them comment on blogs, Youtube videos, Twitter posts, Pintrest boards, etc… that are based in our subject area so that students know what good comments look like? So conversations around critical issues in that realm can arise?

If we don’t show them alternative ways to use social media, will they ever learn about its potential for good?  Its powerful connections?

Eric Pickersgill, a visiting lecturer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the photographer behind the series titled Removed. In this series the technology is literally removed. The effect is haunting.  It begs the question, are we mindful of how technology is affecting our relationships?  What are the implications of not including conversations about technology and identity  at the dinner table and in classrooms when the world is so clearly connected?

It is easy to be pedantic when we talk about teens and their cell phones, but do we go beyond what we see? Do we remember what it is like to be a teenager? Do we listen or lecture?  Do we consider that though the medium has changed, at the heart of the matter is relationships?

Would love to hear your additional comments and ideas.


Hughes, J. & Morrison, L. (2013). Using Facebook to explore adolescent identities. International Journal of Social Media and Interactive Learning Environments, Special Issue, 1(4), 370-386.

Ontario., Curriculum and Assessment Policy Branch. (n.d.). Adolescent literacy guide: A professional learning resource for literacy, grades 7-12. Literacy Gains.

Fears, Cheers, Unclears: Parenting in a Connected World

Every time I gather with friends, our conversation inevitably turns to our kids and their use of social media.  I find there are three types of parent attitudes:

ostrich I have no idea

A few parents have no idea about what apps their kids are on and what they are doing there.  They will openly admit to having no clue about how anything works and don’t really care to find out.

lock & keyThere is no way

A few of my friends are adamant that their kids not engage in any communication via social media and are openly fearful about anything concerning technology.  They are typically also extremely controlling of everything their kids do if they are on any of these platforms.

discussionLet’s Talk About it

Yet other parents are curious and involved.  They have frequent and open discussions with their kids about the apps they are using and how they are using them.  Despite this, these parents have lots of questions about the a apps themselves and how they work, in particular, how to keep kids safe.

And many of us fall somewhere in between.  Frankly, it feels like we’re swimming in unchartered waters without a life raft most of the time!

Enter the Fears, Cheers, Unclears Parent & Teen Community Event!

Parenting today is complicated.  What’s Snapchat? Instagram? Twitter?  How much time is too much time to be online?  How do I keep my kids safe, while giving them the space they need to grow into responsible adults?  Our panel discussion of adults and teens will start conversations around some of the questions that we have as we parent in a connected, digital age.

Get involved!  Please submit your questions for our panelists by clicking here.


Live in York Region? Register for this FREE event here.

Not in York Region?

We will be live-streaming this event.  Check @BullyFreeYR for the link closer to the event date.


Consider organizing your own event.  Look for the local chapter of the Awesome Foundation, approach your local Council,  and assemble a panel of community members.  I’d be happy to help you get started!

This initiative was made possible by the Awesome Foundation Grant and the generosity of the Town of Newmarket.

Check out the blog post New Roads GM Group wrote about our upcoming event here.

Awesome Foundation

Here is great post related to this topic, Protecting or Ignoring, by George Couros, and an article by Andrew Campbell posted in the Toronto Star, Are Kids Behaving Badly Online.

Attribution: The title Fear, Cheers, & Unclears comes from a protocol I used at a Ministry of Education (Ontario) session, but the original source of the protocol is unknown to me.

Social Media and Trying to Find Balance


I have been thinking about this blog post shared by George Couros and the subsequent conversation with Jason Wigmore.
I'm quitting Social MediaIn her post, Jessi Hempel talks about the many factors that have influenced her decision to take a sabbatical from social media for the month of August.  It’s a humorous and thoughtful take on how to balance social media in your life.  I think that what’s niggling at me most is the idea of going cold-turkey for a month and whether or not that is the best approach; at least I don’t think it is for me as an educator.

You can’t argue with the fact that technology is so ubiquitous that it can literally take over every minute if you allow it to.  And that the need for balance is more necessary today than it ever has been as a result.

But, like Jason, I enjoy having the luxury of time in the summer to read more blog-posts and connect with like-minded educators on Twitter which I don’t necessarily have the time to do when the school year is in full swing. I really love reading someone’s post, the comments, and then adding to the conversation with my own comment.  I think I learn more from that process than I might attending a conference.  I simply don’t have as much time for reflection during the school year when I know I skim and scan some of the items shared with me on Twitter and put them aside to get back to.  In the summer, I can actually read a post twice if I need to, I can think about where I could use the ideas and plan to make it happen or I can thoughtfully share the information with people who might find it useful.  I truly believe that being a connected educator is valuable every day of the year.

If I believe that to be a teacher is to be a learner,  

then does it make sense to stop learning in the summer?

Socially, I am notorious for missing birthdays and milestone events in the lives of my friends and family because I rarely get on Facebook or Instagram (which I use for personal rather than professional connections) unless it’s summer time.  I love to re-connect with everyone on those platforms in July and August.

I think of my kids, who have spent every daytime moment with their friends at school who because of varying schedules have not been able to physically connect with their friends over the summer.  They use Snapchat and Instagram to keep in touch.  I remember how connected to my friends I was at that age and how often my parents yelled at me for being on the phone!

Admittedly, I have to try really hard to strike a balance with technology and social media and to model that balance for my kids, but the lazy hazy days of summer seem like the ideal opportunity to do that.

Every summer, we go on a family road trip.  Typically, we turn off our cellular data and only used our phones to take pictures.  We listen to music and trivia in the car.  On our Washington DC visit this summer, we toured tons of museums and monuments, and had lots of great conversations. I’m not going to lie.  When we hit a McDonalds or coffee shop with wifi, everyone took out their phones to get updates.  It was like we had been trekking through a desert and didn’t realize how thirsty we were until we arrived at an Oasis.  But we had a good conversation about that at our next non-wifi stop and for almost the entire trip we were connecting with one another.

Summer for us is about going for walks, or long bike-rides, swimming in the pool, visiting cottages, and hosting friends.  At camp, there are no devices allowed.  And so with all of these opportunities for outdoor activities, it’s actually easier to model an appropriate balance. Isn’t it?

As a parent and teacher, the need for modelling and seeking balance is particularly important. But sometimes, it’s tough-going!

I would say that both myself and my husband are just as addicted to social media as my kids.  I am definitely a Twitter addict! One of the things I had to do while I’ve been busy working on a course is turn off my notifications, so I could keep from being distracted.  I openly shared my struggle and why I was doing that with my teens so that when they have an important assignment, they might use the same strategy.  And I love Hempel’s idea of creating a Folder on my phone called, “Don’t Touch” which might work for these instances.

There are a couple of year-long absolutes in our family:

1. no devices at the table (at home or a restaurant) and when guests are over

2. devices stay downstairs at bedtime

The rest is a bit of a work in progress.

Obviously, we are a middle class family with summers off.  The issue of balance becomes even more complicated if kids are left to their own devices (pardon the pun) and don’t have the opportunities and the modelling that our family situation can provide.

But technology isn’t going away any time soon, so we really need to keep working at finding a solution that is going to work for us.  Giving up technology for a week, a month, or for Lent isn’t going to solve the problem.

And I think we need to take it easy on kids if as adults we’re struggling too. It can’t be one of those, “Do as I say!” things because I know how much I hated that!!

Putting your phone away.jpg-large


Knowing when it is appropriate to have a device out of sight and when/how to connect with experiences and people in real life are increasingly important lessons for any age group every day of the year.

Being fluid and mindful and having ongoing conversations about it might be the best approach.






I also

Yik Yak: What you should know, what you can do if you need to, and why it’s complicated.

A few days ago, a friend talked to me about YikYak.  I had heard of this before but had never really checked it out.  I knew that it was a platform for potential cyberbullying because The Bully Free Alliance of York Region of which I am a member, has spoken openly about the potential danger of the app which operates on the promise of anonymity.  But, when we looked at the app that afternoon the only thing that stood out was, “Poop is poop spelled backwards.”  I had no idea that one day later, I would lose sleep over some of the posts on the app.

What is Yik Yak?

Yik Yak is a social media app where users can “yak” anonymously. As is the case with other social media, the app in and of itself is not “bad”.  One student I talked to about it said she liked to see what students at different universities were saying on campus. Yik Yak does, in fact, have pretty explicit rules about its use, but the lure of anonymity makes it fertile ground for mean-spirited individuals to engage in offensive behaviour.

The premise is that you sign up for this service, enable location services, and then you can get a live feed of what everyone within a 1.5 Km radius is saying around you–completely anonymously.  Few, if any adults are in the space, so you can imagine what might happen.

If you disapprove of a post, you can “downvote,” but if you can “upvote” it as well. The up and down votes cancel each other out.  If there are 5 “down votes” the message will disappear.  The messages with the most “upvotes” rise to the top.

There has been much written about the app in the US. At USC, one editor urges that we get rid of Yik Yak completely.  Diana Graber of the Huffington Post has an interesting post about it, as does the Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey, “How do you solve a problem like Yik Yak?”

At one of our schools, YikYak got completely out of hand the other day.  And though some students would “downvote” comments so they disappeared within minutes, there were a plethora of offensive comments posted with several “upvotes”.

Students and teachers who were targeted were completely demoralized and upset. Understandably, the teachers and administrators who found out about it wanted IT to shut it down and I in truth, as I worried about the welfare of students targeted, in that moment I did not disagree.

What we learned about Yik Yak and inappropriate use

A more effective mechanism, we learned, is to have YikYak apply a geofence  to suspend the account if there is evidence that there are posts made by minorities or that the app is being used inappropriately.  This is what would appear if the account was suspended:

Yik Yak worked with administration to ensure that a geofence was put up–though this process takes anywhere from 24 hours to 3 days.  These steps  may provide support for administrators or Guidance Counsellors who notice that YikYak is being used offensively:

                                                                                                                                                                              (emphasis added)
Here is the contact information for Yik Yak Support http://www.yikyakapp.com/ in case you need it.

A few other things Yik Yak told us:

-if a post is flagged multiple times, it is sent to our moderation team. If you flag a post, the user who created it will not know that you flagged their post, however, if they are suspended, they will receive a notification about their suspension.

-Yik Yak cannot disclose any user information without the proper documents from law officials.

The federal Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq., restricts Yik Yak’s disclosure of user account information without the lawful consent of the account holder or unless authorized by a properly issued warrant, court order, or subpoena. As a result, Yik Yak can only respond to requests for user account information that are received directly from a law enforcement agency pursuant to appropriate legal process. If you are aware of an emergency situation or other criminal activity, you should immediately contact your local law enforcement officials.
Guidelines for law enforcement officials seeking information about Yik Yak user accounts are available on the website at: [ http://www.yikyakapp.com/legal/ ]http://www.yikyakapp.com/legal/. Please have law enforcement contact us following these guidelines.

What the school did…

Administrators let Guidance and Chaplaincy know about the app and the comments made on it as it was clear that some students would need the support. There was an announcement made and a few teachers posted in the app, which in some ways made it worse.

The principal called for an assembly of the President’s Council (the students who represent each of the Councils in the school), where he asked them what they thought should be done to address the situation.  As in any situation like this, often the students posting offensive things are in the minority, and with the situation out of hand, it was clear that these students wanted to ensure that they became part of the solution.

What the students said…

So much more than we could have anticipated as they engaged in some genuine dialogue about what could be done.  Here’s a summary:

  • Many students implored us to shut the app down completely
  • Other students argued that if you shut the app down,  there are other apps that operate in the same way (they referenced Whisper and Ask FM)
  • Others made the comment that if the Board blocked the app, students would just use their own data.
  • One student made us aware of the “flagging” mechanism which can only be seen if you go into the comment itself.
  • Others suggested that they spread the word and go into the app to post silly comments and to counter-act some of the negative ones
  • One young woman suggested that teachers be more vigilant with the no cell-phone in class policy.
  • Many students wanted to into their classes and talk about the issue with them
  • Most of them agreed that the week before, there had been nothing objectionable on the app, and that most likely next week it would be not newsworthy again.

In the end, the student action plan was that while school administration and IT worked on blocking the app, students would..

1.  Flag posts which were inappropriate and identified users
2.  Post on the app in more positive ways, ensuring that anyone who was targeted was supported and/or complimented and encourage their Councils to do so as well.
3.  Speak to their classmates about the situation.

Administration empowered the students to address the problem and the students took on the responsibility willingly and with much empathy, but there will need to be much healing and support for the school community as a result of this incident.


What I did as a parent…

Being so affected by this incident, I got our family (my two teenage daughters) to download the app and we read some of the posts together.  There was nothing really objectionable.  In fact, many of the posts in our geographic area were silly:
“I’m still scared of thunder and I’m 18”
“It’s awesome to have really good conversations with my dog”

I asked them what they would do if do if they saw something mean or inappropriate.  My older daughter said she would downvote it so it would disappear as quickly as possible “so the person wouldn’t feel bad.”  Now she could have just been saying that because we were having this conversation. But we were having the conversation.
And then she said, “This is kind of stupid actually”…and deleted the app.

But yesterday, my daughter re-installed the app and I was horrified.

My inside voice screamed, “How dare you?  Delete that app right now!” My outside voice calmly asked why she would do that when she knew about the horrible things that had happened in the app and that clearly I was so affected by the events that happened.  Her response to me was interesting. She said that in our area the posts are silly and funny.  She said, “Don’t worry mum, if I see something inappropriate, I’ll downvote it or report it.”  She even asked me to look at it with her.

And despite every fibre in my being that was screaming at me to get her to delete it, I didn’t (for now) because the posts in our area really aren’t inappropriate.   Will I be extra diligent about checking up on her in that space? Absolutely.  But, letting her keep the app says I trust her and I want her to keep talking to me about the world into which I have so little insight as an adult.  Besides, now I know exactly what to do if there is something inappropriate or dangerous happening.

A Very Complicated Issue

So often we think of something like this as very black and white, but there are so many layers here to consider.

One of the students with whom we spoke was very forthright in his comments to us about how adults sometimes oversimplify things like this.  While we tend to speak about “good students” and “bad students”posting, he thoughtfully suggested that a very good student who might be needing to vent, might use Yik Yak as a mechanism to do so and that to categorize “good” and “bad” is not entirely accurate or fair.

And if your adult voice is emphatic that having an online place to vent is just stupid and dangerous, you need to read Dana Boyd’s book, It’s Complicated, which might make you rethink the idea of how students today view privacy in their networked lives.

And then there is the issue of blocking apps by IT.  There is no question that this app needed to be blocked immediately in this case to ensure the safety and well being of staff and students being targeted.  And yet there is lingering doubt in my mind that blocking all objectionable apps is a real solution; a sentiment echoed by more than one of the students.  In this case, isn’t knowledge power? Wouldn’t an administrator, like to be able to go onto the app to see what activity is happening that might put students in jeopardy without it being blocked from view because in reality students would still be able to do all of this on their own networks?  Might we need to rethink this stance in order to understand the realm of social media a little better as educators?

Then again, if we don’t block an app like this, is it reasonable to suggest that Administrators can be aware of and check all of the apps out there that might potentially cause this much damage? Who has time for that?  This issue alone took up the full attention of the admin team when we know that there are so many other issues that are important to the well being of students in a school.

Another issue that came up is to enforce the “no cell-phone in class” rule.  Does that really solve the problem? Everything I do in my job encourages the use of technology in class as it can provide so many opportunities for creativity and accessibility.  I’m not sure I could even teach a class without students using their cellphones for something (very few of our classrooms are in computer labs). This knee-jerk reaction does not seem to me the right course of action as it doesn’t really even address the issue.

George Couros’ who had just spent some time at our School Board, also really got me thinking about Digital Leadership  How can we better enpower our students? At what age do we start?  How can we better tap into student voice to help us navigate this new frontier?

And the administrator at the school posed some very interesting questions as well.  What are the legal supports in place?  Is the solution petition the government to make Bill 13C more robust to include comments as well as images?  You only need to look at the controversy surrounding this Bill to know that there is no easy answer here.

Isn’t the bigger question, beyond technology and apps? How do we teach empathy to students and an understanding that an anonymous post can be just as hurtful–if not more so?  Shouldn’t teaching students Catholic Character mean we teach them to be the same person online and face to face?

I have invited the students from President’s Council to write a guest blog-post which I am hoping they will do.   I welcome your feedback and the sharing of your own experiences.