Social Media in Schools

Social media in schoolsMany schools have been in the news for negative things (televised fights, threats of violence, inappropriate relationships between teachers and students, etc.), but Madison schools just made the news for some innovation.  Four Madison schools (2 middle and 2 high schools) are piloting a program that shuts down free Wi-Fi access to certain social media apps (including Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more) during school hours. Don’t worry- the students will still be able to access school email through their devices and be able to communicate with family in emergency situations. The goal of this program is to see if grades, student behavior, and school safety improve with fewer online distractions.  Interesting, can I do the same while teens are in my clinic?

If this pilot shows improvements in the school setting, imagine what it can do in other settings! Technology is everywhere. It seems as if everyone has a smart phone and we are all constantly texting, checking email, or using social media – even while driving. Please stop that – it’s dangerous! Many people argue that the easy access to technology helps build relationships and keeps people connected (and some studies do confirm this, click here, here, and here for examples). But is this the type of connection we want to promote? Well, not at the expense of real-life interactions. We have all been guilty of staring at the cell phone when we could have used those times to personally connect with the people around us. A resident described one situation where her entire family was in one room and instead of talking to each other, they all were looking at our phones in silence, completely entranced by the technology. She said, “It saddens me to think about the precious time I wasted gaining information from social media about ‘friends’ I haven’t thought of for many years when the most meaningful people in my life are sitting right beside me.” What if we all took the time to put down our cell phones and actually have a conversation with those around us?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has many recommendations about screen time and social media use.  One of their main recommendations is to develop a Family Media Plan that is followed by both kids and adults. Check out this site for information on what to do with young children. Highlights of what to include in your media plan with your teens:

  • Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms and bathrooms (where the majority of nude selfies used for “sexting” are taken).
  • Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
  • Make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.

Being present and engaged with children and teens (and colleagues and other adults…) is the best way to stay connected and show that you care. It also enables you to teach family values and model the art of communication, something which is arguably being lost with these new forms of technology. We urge everyone to turn off the screens for a period of time each day and have actual conversations. Find out something new about those around you every day. You may be amazed with what you discover.