Social Media, Digital Citizenship, Adolescent Development

Posted by
Jo Fothergill
Jo Fothergill

Recently, I was reminded of the importance of understanding childhood development, and how it applies to social media and digital citizenship. Our children, particularly our adolescents, are heavily engaged in social media during a crucial time of physical, emotional, and mental developmental changes. This translates to potential problems in these areas if they are disrupted by issues on social media.

As a teacher, I engage in social media mainly for professional purposes. I am not concerned about identity development, AND my interactions are always quite positive. Until the other day. I experienced my first confrontational messages over social media, and was unfollowed and blocked. He since apologized and deleted his tweets, but this reminded me that though I could put it in its proper place, have a growth mindset and move on, this probably happens a lot more with adolescents due to their developmental stages.

This truly made me think deeper about students and social media.

What do we know about adolescents?

We know that adolescents have not fully developed the parts of their brains that regulate emotion and impulsivity. Further, adolescent minds tend to experience more emotion and the capacity for self-regulation may not be fully developed.

We also know that social identity matter a lot to adolescents AND how they ‘appear’ to their peers. What we as teachers do not ‘see’ on social media still affects adolescents very deeply.

Therefore, I think we need to go beyond basic digital citizenship, and incorporate the aspects of critical literacy, metacognition, voice & identity – what we already do in our literacy programs.

Whether or not students are being bullied, educators still need to incorporate strategies to help our students navigate the virtual world.  How will we help to guide our own students who are dealing with stress as it comes from social media – bullying or not. How does this infiltrate into the classroom, learning and teaching?

Potential Issues faced among adolescents and social media

  • Being followed, not followed, or unfollowed by classmates,
  • Not having anything positive to share and collaborate with online, which amplifies negative incidences
  • Lack of personalization – we don’t really know who the person is, we have lost personalization and a lot of information we would normally get from face-to-face interactions
  • Impulsivity and jumping conclusions before clarifying intentions
  • No break. Kids don’t have a break from this – they are connected with SM 24/7, and most teachers and parents do not understand what is going on and the extra turmoil that many students are experiencing
  • New layers of communication, and dimensions of life at play- yet parents and teachers did not grow up with this reality.

My Recommendations for Digital Citizenship and Adolescents:

1.  Provide explicit feedback for students based on where they are at in their minds – not our minds! This means really getting to know them!

2. Forget the worksheet. Teach students how to respond online – this is a MAJOR part of our world now!

3. Actively create positive online communities for your students.

4. Engage in critical literary discussions and work surrounding social media and digital citizenship

5. Help students create meaningful networks on their own. 

6. Teach students what to do when faced with negativity online. Be explicit. Give explicit feedback.

7. Normalize the feelings that students have, and help them learn to handle it

8. Help students self-regulate and self-understand their own lives, biases, values, and norms – metacognition and other higher order thinking skills are important

9. Help students experience positivity online. That way, when negativity does happen, your students have experience and reminders that they have positive things that they can be proud of.

10. Help students learn to create positive digital footprints, so that they can be reminded that they have valuable things to contribute online,

11. Recognize that the students who may be impacted most by negative social media are perhaps the ones that are using it because they have little opportunity to share their voice in other aspects of life. This can be particularly devastating to the introverted or sensitive child who does not feel they have a voice at school

12. Help students to develop metacognitive strategies. Provide explicit feedback for students based on where they are at in their minds – not our minds! This means really getting to know them! that promote a growth mindset where they can learn from their mistakes, and understand their emotions with regard to the behaviours of others online.

What other recommendations do you have?

Deborah McCallum


© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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