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Program Design, Development, and Quality / Staff Leadership and Management

Let’s Take Another Selfie!


As Out-of-School-Time professionals, we have a lot of freedom to create amazing experiences for the youth we serve.

In order to create those experiences, we must use all the tools that available to us. Thus, I was recently surprised as I was chatting with a colleague who challenged me on my passionate advocacy of the use of social media with youth. Like many, this friend of mine had bought in to the recent barrage of media that has focused on the negative consequences of social networking such as cyberbullying and sexting.

I acknowledged that it was true cyberbullying and sexting were one outcome of the use of social networking, but I also had to point out the multitude of positive outcomes as well. This became the top item on my mind as I sit down to write my post this month.

For generations, various commentators have worried about the impact of technology on our youth.

The Industrial Revolution with its noisy steam engines broke up small pastoral communities with noise and a youthful sense of mobility freedom. Telephones, watches, clocks, and even electric lights went against the natural grain of society. Radio and Television were instant missionaries of that horrible thing called Rock ‘n Roll! Of course, the Internet has just been disastrous. Wonder what they will say about Augmented Reality items like Google Glass or even Virtual Reality items like the Oculus Rift. Better yet, what will happen when the Internet disappears and becomes the Internet of Everything like Google’s Eric Schmidt recently predicted.

While I am being a little snarky, the point I am trying to make is that social media is here and whether we like it or not it is a part of a youth’s everyday life experience. Research on the impact of social media is still fairly young, but the Pew Research Center has some great findings that we can tap into.

According to their research, of teens ages 12 to 17 across various demographic factors, 95% use the Internet and 81% use social media. 48% of that group has a phone with more than half saying the phone is a smartphone. What sites are they visiting? Well, 45% go to YouTube, 28% say they do not use a specific Social Media site, 15% go to Facebook, 10% go to Instagram, and 2% hang out on Twitter. Research has found that the benefits include staying in touch, making new friends, sharing photos and experiences, exchanging ideas, and finding opportunities for community engagement. On the opposite coin, the harm factors include increased narcissism and cyberbullying.

Yet, Cal State L.A. psychology professor Kaveri Subrahmanyam has discovered that youth who spend time on social media sites may actually be the healthiest psychologically as they use this new technology to form identities separate from those of their parents.

What are we to do as OST providers?

Ban social media, embrace it, use it, or denounce it? I propose first understanding it more from a youth’s point of view. Reach out to the kids you serve and find out how they are using social media and why. Don’t take their freedom away by creating a special school account or embedding it in program. Instead find out more about the hype and drill down to the core use. Discover if social media should be a part of the program or not. The reasons that kids use social media are universal from elementary to high school, just scalable (think scope and sequence here). Here’s a good article from a University of Texas student that gives us some insight on social media from a teen’s point of view.

Edutopia has collected an amazing array of ways we can use social media in our out-of-school-time programs or even in the core school day. Blogging platforms can be used to encourage writing, creativity, and student expression. Video platforms can be used in entertainment productions, scientific journaling, or even book reports. Microblogs can be used to do research, take polls or surveys, follow famous people, or even something totally crazy like using LeetSpeak to translate literature (see Social networks generate backchannel conversations, tools like Skype or Zoom create collaborative environments outside of the classroom, flashcard apps help with study sessions, and even games can be used in positive ways.

The tools are here and we have a choice to embrace them or get ran over by them.

The great thing is that in our field, we may have a little more freedom to demonstrate how these tools can be used for good. So, if you ask me let’s push the envelope, see what we can do to create positive changes in youth, and take another selfie!

Oh and this morning for breakfast, I had a Cinnamon Roll and Orange Juice while catching up on the news through Twitter.

Author Profile: @shawnpetty

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