By Laura Tierney
Social media has been getting a bad rap these days, and I get it. Between cyberbullying that leads to suicide and violent crimes being live-streamed on Facebook, the headlines surrounding social media have been nothing short of horrific. The poor decisions that people make online (the “don’ts”) get lots of attention, but what about the do’s of social media? Not so much.
What we don’t see making headlines are all the good that comes from social media: the teen who used social to rally around a classmate who was being bullied; the 7-year-old refugee tweeting about living in East Aleppo; the celebrity who paid for a year of film school for a fellow artist and Orlando nightclub shooting survivor. When we talk to kids about social media, we tend to emphasize all the ways they can get into trouble and the things we don’t want them to do. What if instead of emphasizing all of the don’ts, we tell them about the positives, the do’s of social media? Instead of scaring our kids about all the pitfalls of social media, we need to focus on coaching them to use it for good.
The Do’s of Social Media
High schoolers, even middle schoolers, can use their devices to strengthen their reputation, encourage and inspire others, seize collegiate and career opportunities, start movements, support causes, or just send a supportive message someone they see being bullied. Their devices are their voices. For them, there is no difference between being social and using social media. It’s the same thing, and it’s a game they can win or lose. Let’s help them win.
Win the game of social
When we use the power of our devices, our voices, for good, we call it winning the game of social. As a former Duke field hockey player, I have experienced first-hand the power of working together as a team to win. Winning this game starts at home.
One of the most popular tools families use to win the game of social is a technology contract. At The Social Institute, we researched over 50 of these online and found that nearly all of them began “I will not…” And only the child was required to sign it.
Because we focus only on what students should do on social, instead of what they shouldn’t do, we wrote the first tech contract based on high standards, not rules, that everyone on your “home team” agrees to live by.
Live up to high standards, together
Parents, you are your child’s most important role model. They see how often you’re on your phone, how much you post to Instagram, how frustrated you get when someone shares an opinion that you disagree with on Facebook, whether you set your phone on the dinner table, and if you check it while driving. The Social Family Standards Agreement we developed is meant to help everyone on your home team win the game of social. Here are a few standards we recommend:
Use your mic for good. Everything you post or share on social media — even texts, and even the “disappearing” content on platforms like Snapchat — can, one way or another, be seen by anyone. Social media is like an ongoing press conference after a big game, and you’ve been handed the mic. Your friends and followers (your team) — and potentially the world — are your audience. Use it to do good.
Play to your core. Share whatever it is you like to do on social media. Can you dance like Michael Jackson? Swim like Michael Phelps? Can you make miniature super heroes out of recycled soda cans? Great. Share it on social media. Be YOU.
Cyberback others. To encourage everyone to combat cyberbullying, remember this: When you see someone being put down, back them up with kind words, an encouraging heart emoji, a real-life high-five. Shut down bullies by building up the bullied.
This is just a taste of what I believe social media education should look like at home and in schools. We risk depriving our children and students of the skills they need to navigate one of the greatest influencers on their social development when we focus on rules that start with “don’t.”
So when you talk to teens and pre-teens about the do’s of social media, remember: Equip them with the do’s instead of focusing solely on the don’ts. Give them a chance to win the game of social.
Laura Tierney is founder and president of The Social Institute, which teaches students positive ways to handle one of the biggest drivers of their social development: social media. By reinforcing character strengths like empathy, integrity, and teamwork, and by teaching teens and their role models (from parents to U.S. Olympians) to be their best selves on all platforms, The Social Institute is helping students “win the game of social media.” Laura, a four-time Duke All-American and Duke’s Athlete of the Decade, recently became a mother. Game on.