10 Reasons Why we should start showing Middle Schoolers how to use Social Media

I was recently tagged in a post called, “Ten Reasons Middle Schoolers Don’t Need Social Media” based on a post in Psychology Today and asked about my thoughts. The post was written in a Parenting forum. My response requires more that 280 words, so here are my responses in blue:

1. Social media was not designed for children.

A tween’s underdeveloped frontal cortex can’t manage the distraction nor the temptations that come with social media use.

  1. Although not designed for children, social media is being used by kids at younger and younger ages, Adolescence is also a time where kids are “able to reflect on their own thinking, and are able to observe how they learn and develop strategies to improve their learning, as well as when planning and impulse control is developing (Adolescent Literacy Guide, page 16). Thus, this is the ideal time in an adolescent’s life for mentoring children in the appropriate use of technology.   A 2016 Common Sense Media study talks about many ill effects of unmonitored use of social media recommends adult role-modelling as necessary to prevent problematic media use. 

2. You can not teach the maturity that social media requires.
I hear parents say that they want to teach their child to use social media appropriately, but their midbrains are not developed yet. Like trying to make clothes fit that are way too big, children will use social media inappropriately until they are older and it fits them better.

2. Kids learn and grow in their maturity and understanding of social relationships not just via social media but in face to face situations as well as texting situations. A parent can get an account for/with the child (because 13+ is generally the age requirement) and help a child navigate the space and use it positively.Having an open relationship and conversations with a child and role-playing can help navigate some of these tensions as they happen and can open up a healthy dialogue–no matter what the medium. There are so many kids who use it quite intelligently and for positive reasons. We seem to harp on the negative so often that we discount the good. 

3. Social media is an entertainment technology.
It does not make your child smarter or more prepared for real life or a future job.

3. This is a BIG FALSE. Social media is about who you follow. Middle school is an amazing time to show kids that social media can connect them to organizations, causes they are passionate about, authors, and learning opportunities.  I have met kids who, as a result of social media connections have had opportunities they never would have had otherwise (Michelle Wrona, Aidan Aird, Timmy Sullivan, Hannah Alper ,Olivia Van Ledtje, Curran Dee to name a few), as well as kids who are leveraging social media for GOOD!

4. It is not necessary for healthy social development.
It is entertainment attached to a marketing platform extracting personal information and preferences from your child, not to mention hours of their time and attention.

4. Because so many kids are presently on social media (and I don’t suspect this will change any time soon), it is true that so much of a tween’s social life is connected to their phone. So NOT allowing a phone and/or social media can actually ostracize a child. Yes, social media is a marketing platform; in the same way that kids have to be critical of magazine and television ads, it is important today to have conversations about the media and the techniques they use to sell a product. In a 2016 Stanford study, 80 % of middle school kids could not discern the difference between an ad and an article, which means that we need to stop trying to ban social media, and instead help our kids make sense of it.

5. A tween’s “more is better” mentality is a dangerous match for social media. 

Social media encourages them to overdo their friend connections like they tend to overdo other things in their lives. Does anyone have thousands of friends?

5. Middle school is an ideal time to talk about friendships as well as isolate the difference between a friend and a follower and what makes online and offline relationships the same or different. But we also have to recognize that for kids, online is an extension of offline because they have only known a world with technology in it. It is also important to note that every person has the power to give another person great joy by sending positive and complimentary messages online as well as in person. As adults, are we modelling the positive and constructive ways we can communicate with one another in person and online? 

6. Social media is an addictive form of screen entertainment.
Like video game addiction, early use can set up future addiction patterns and habits.

6. danah boyd in It’s Complicated talks about the “addiction narrative” being problematic (negative and a misnomer), stating that what we are calling addiction is more a teen’s dependence on their friends which is a natural physiological part of adolescence. I would also add that  Middle school is an ideal time for families to talk about balance and to keep each other accountable, and to talk about the impact of notifications and responding to them right away. Many parents need to better model their own excessive use and starting these conversations and good habits early will set kids up for success later in life. 

7. Social media replaces learning the hard social “work” necessary for success.
The use of social media greatly lessens opportunities requiring children to practice dealing face-to-face with their peers, a skill they need to master to be successful in real life.

7. Face to face interactions are important and need to be continually fostered. This is a good time to teach kids when it is appropriate to respond in person, on the telephone, or on text; helping them to determine what is appropriate in each situation. “Real life” today, however, also increasingly demands that people know how to respond appropriately in electronic formats. I have worked on several collaborative projects without ever having been in the same room as my colleagues.  It is therefore important to allow students opportunities to practice both.

8. Social media can cause teens to lose connection with family.
They view “friends” as their foundation and since the brain is still being formed, they need healthy family attachment more than with their peers. It is just as important now as when they were preschoolers.

8. Adolescents will typically choose friends over family; it’s part of this developmental stage. But social media use doesn’t mean that family attachments are lost; in fact, it can provide great impetus for conversation and some fun (have you Snapchatted with your teen lately?) and can actually strengthen bonds with family. My own children saw their grandmother once every couple of months, but because of Instagram, they connect far more frequently and she knows what’s happening in their lives far more than she did before. When they see each other face to face, they have much more to talk about.

9. Social media use represents lost potential for teens.
The teen’s brain development is operating at peak performance for learning new things. Studies show that it is nearly impossible for them to balance it all and teens waste too much time and too much of their brain in a digital world.

9. Multi-tasking is not good for anyone (adults or kids) as many research studies have proven, but is a separate conversation from social media which can be a place of connection with new ideas and an abundance of learning. In fact, the reading, posting, creating, and viewing that kids are doing on social media are literacy rich activities, and need to be recognized as such. Literacy has always been impacted by technology. Social media is a part of the world today and we have an obligation to help kids understand the world around them. As adults we can be inquisitive rather than condescending about pop culture, and changes in the usage of langage. 

Today, there is an increasing digital divide not necessarily when it comes to access to devices, but with HOW devices are being used. There are lots of kids doing awesome things online and adult mentors who are showing their tweens & teens how to use social media to follow their passions, follow inspirational people, connect with people in careers they are interested in, and make a positive difference in their communities. Sadly, some have no idea of the potential. That is a reason parents, kids, community, and schools need to work together to show kids there is potential beyond entertainment and that they can create intentional and positive digital identities. Middle school is an ideal age for this, because it occurs before they develop notions of what social media is “supposed to be”.

10. Do any of us wish we had started earlier?

10. Absolutely. If only I had known that social media could provide me with a network of passionate, committed, and generous educators, when I was a young teacher starting my career, I would have been so much better for it.

I’m not sure why we feel it is an all or nothing situation. We need to recognize that the world is different than it was even 10 years ago, and balance our fears with opportunities to help our kids not just survive but thrive and be leaders in online spaces!

Check out my book, Social LEADia which has tons of examples of students using social media for good!


2 thoughts on “10 Reasons Why we should start showing Middle Schoolers how to use Social Media

  1. LivBit

    Can I say I just read the original blog post and I am REALLY disappointed @TODAYshow would publish that on their blog. You can be a writer with a PhD and STILL be really uninformed. Social media is a LEARNING LANDSCAPE. My BEST teachers are ones I met there.

    It’s too bad the author of that blog post didn’t actually talk to kids here in these spaces using social media for #digitalgood. She could have learned something to help her post be a bit more realistic.

    STOP saying kids can’t handle this responsibility b/c it’s a brain thing. Some kids? Yes. ALL kids? NO. That’s lumping maturity into one big clump around an age. Well, that’s silly. Kids mature from EXPERIENCES. They need opportunities to try new things and sometime even fail!

    Kids will make mistakes ALL the time. It’s how we learn LESSONS about life. Social media will actually be a part of those mistakes. But let’s think about how some grown ups use social media and consider some kids are better in these spaces than even very powerful grown ups.

    How come kids can’t make mistakes here without being told we need monitoring when grown ups are in these spaces making mistakes ALL the time? I could tag a few adults, including my PRESIDENT who need to be monitored. I could tag kids who are incredible models for them.

    Kids need grown ups to SEE social media as learning. If grown ups keep saying how bad it is here, kids will stop sharing their wonders and their questions with you. Instead we will ask each other. Sometimes other kids have no clue b/c no one is teaching the POWER of this space.

    Social media is only going to get MORE complicated. It’s time for grown ups to stop giving “wisdom” about spaces they are just learning about. Let’s learn FROM and WITH each other. Kids can teach you, if you let them.

    Also a little writing critique I learned from the authors who mentor me (who I met here on Twitter), the Today Show blog piece should have a powerful ending. This author’s ending is 🤷‍♀️🤔💤😬

    I can say that because I am fluent in emoji AND I have incredible writing mentors from my time on social media.

    Thank you Jennifer for helping kids like me and for LIFTING our voices in the work you do. I can tell you loads of grown ups SAY they care about student voice, but really they want it for their OWN work. You’ve shown the power of learning with us, not preaching at us. I am sooooo happy TWITTER brought you to my life!!!! Thank goodness I am a social media kid!!!!

    1. jencasatodd@gmail.com Post author

      Hey Liv,
      I want to thank you for always pushing my thinking (and the thinking of adults in general). I tagged you because I value not just how you are doing social media right, but I feel like your voice is so important in this conversation. I realize not everyone is where you are…but if we work together and give kids a voice, I think we can get there. I am so full of love and joy knowing I have you in my life! Your words are good for the world and so are you! oxoxo


Leave a Reply