Social Media- A Platform for Developing Empathy

As #DCMOOC progresses I am continuing to reflect on the meaning, impact and importance of the digital world for both my students and myself.

This week I took Alec Couros` recommendation and read through Danah Boyd’s digital book ITS COMPLICATED: THE SOCIAL LIVES OF NETWORKED TEENS

As a school counsellor, I appreciated Boyd’s attempt to give a voice to the teenage perspective surrounding social media.  The insights I have gained from reading this book will impact the way I approach discussions with my students and my own children regarding their digital conduct and identities.  I would recommend this read to colleagues, friends and even my own high school students.

Learning Life Skills

At times we can all look out at the world and worry about what MIGHT BE. Our fears may lead us to pull our children close and limit what they are able to do in an effort to protect them… but in trying to protect and shield our children we disempower them.

“Fear is not the solution: empathy is” (pg.127)

Boyd reminds us that teens use social media to socialize. It is their way of carving out a space in an over-structured world.

Reflecting on my own experiences I realized that some of my students travel over an hour each way to attend school. Many students are also involved in part time work and extra-curricular activities which do not leave a lot of opportunities to simply relax and hang out with friends.

After school typically looks something like this:

While John may have a break after school and not have to be at work until 6, Sherry goes straight from school to club and gets home just as John is leaving….. How do they remain connected? – By using an asynchronous virtual environment.- Social media

 “Many adults put pressure on teens to devote more time toward adult-prioritized practices and less time socializing, failing to recognize the important types of learning that take place when teens do connect…… adults must recognize what teens are trying to achieve and work with them to find balance and to help them think about what they are encountering.” (pg 99)

Part of growing up is learning to navigate relationships. Friendship is a SKILL. As with other skills that we teach our children, such as reading and math, it requires practice, guidance, conversations about what is happening and opportunities to learn from mistakes.

Students are puzzles not just problems

Boyd encourages society to use multiple eyes on the street- the kids who are struggling in life will also be struggling online. What do their communication patterns teach us about what is going on in their lives?

“Bullies are not evil people who decide to torment for fun; those are sociopaths. Most bullies react aggressively because they’re struggling with serious issues of their own…… It’s easy to empathize with those who are on the receiving end of meanness and cruelty. It’s much harder—and yet perhaps more important—to offer empathy to those who are doing the attacking.” (135)

As a school counsellor, I am often approached by students who need some help navigating the rapids of relationships. I value social media as a tool to sample the undercurrent of my students lives. Rather than using chat logs as a tool for penalizing student conduct, they can be used as a launching pad for important conversations.


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