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Social Media and High Schoolers: Will They Ever Learn?

This first-hand account of the secret digital lives of high school students comes from newest Cyber Civics team member Peter Kelley, who is also a former high school English teacher and current high school coach.

There’s an urgent and growing need to equip middle school students with the skills to become ethical, knowledgeable and empowered digital citizens. Every competent mind is able to comprehend this….especially high school students! Having been a high school teacher and coach for the past five years, I’ve (over)heard firsthand how damaging the effects of “digital incidents” can be on students. My curiosity, along with my first introduction to Cyber Civics™—the innovative middle school digital citizenship and literacy program—urged me to investigate further. So I questioned 30 of my students about whether they felt courses in digital literacy and citizenship in middle school would have been helpful in preparing them for their “digital life” in a high school setting. A resounding 30 for 30 said YES! When asked if a digital literacy program in middle school would prevent future “digital incidents” in high school….30 out of 30 said an absolute YES! Not too surprising if you think about it though.

Shelley Glaze, Educational Director at Journey School – a K-8 school in Aliso Viejo, California says, “Immediately following the inception of Cyber Civics at our school, there were fewer problems from social media and cyber-bullying, and now they are virtually non-existent. The lessons speak to the 21st century learner. Since the lessons are constantly evolving, they remain current and relevant.” I asked a recent graduate from Journey School, who went through all three years of Cyber Civics, how he felt about the program and if he felt empowered moving into a high school setting with the proper skills and knowledge of digital literacy. His response was, “What I appreciated most about the classes is that lessons are not just applicable to the digital world, but to real life everyday situations as well. Yes, I do feel empowered and ready for high school.” Another graduate of the Cyber Civics program said, “A lot of high school kids—girls especially—post underwear and bikini shots. That’s not going to look very good for them later in life. They just don’t think about it. I think the regular high school kid isn’t ready for the backlash of social media because they didn’t talk about it like I did in middle school.” Social media runs rampant throughout most every high school.

It can be used for good, of course—my high school gained national media attention last year when it protested school administration for taking away a prize of $10,000 for the music department and an on-campus appearance from musical artist Macklemore. A petition to reverse the decision on was posted at 8 p.m. on a Monday and had garnered 6,067 signatures by Tuesday morning. Word spread of the petition mostly through social media and by Tuesday afternoon the school reversed its decision. But the bad and ugly side of social media in high school comes out in the forms of sexting, cyber-bullying and addiction. A large takeaway from speaking with my students is they felt those with less face-to-face interaction and less self-awareness were more prone to behave poorly on social media sites. Cyber Civics solves this problem by emphasizing critical thinking, ethical discussion and decision making about digital media issues...through in-person role-play, hands-on projects, and problem solving tasks. So, will high school students ever learn how to behave appropriately while using social media? Not if they look to some celebrities or other “active” social media users who are considered role models (Think Trump, Kardashians, or most recently Dani Mathers). But if the foundation to educate them begins at age 12 (when their brain is able to truly and ethically reason), and builds year to year on that foundational knowledge….there is hope. It’s not going to be a one stop or one lesson fix to a gigantic problem. One movie, or one presentation is not going to engrain the importance of becoming empowered digital citizens into middle and high school kids. The mindset will not be changed overnight. Kids need to think critically about how social media use can be powerful, not destructive. A place to connect, not disconnect. And a place to learn and become an empowered digital citizen, not a reckless one. From a high school educator’s perspective, it’s very promising there’s a perfect program that fits the needs to equip students with these vital “real life” and “digital life” skills.

Peter joins the Cyber Civics team with experience in both Education as well as Marketing. He received a degree in Communication from the University of Portland with an emphasis in Media and Society. Peter has always had a passion for teaching and working with kids. In 2011 he made the switch from the business sector and has been an Educator at Aliso Niguel High School for the past 5 years. He’s also the Head Coach of both the Boys and Girls Tennis Programs. He resides in San Clemente, CA with his wife and young daughter and sees Cyber Civics as “the perfect fit” for his passions and skill sets.

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