Educating on internet use – it’s not just about cyber bullying

Many of us are aware of the rise of cyber bullying and the recent development in cracking down on those that choose to use the internet as a medium to intimidate and abuse. However, should we not also question if there could be more research into the effects of the use of social media on people’s psyche and whether there should be more introduced into the curriculum into how this form of communication should be used?

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Whilst the DofE has taken steps to integrate an education on cyberbullying and internet safety into local authority-maintained schools from the age of five, there are other factors which still need to be addressed. It is all very well to discuss your cyber actions on others, but what about how your actions will affect your own mental health? Facebook, for example, is a reliable, fun tool that can be used to keep your friends in touch with how you’re doing, how you’re feeling, you can even use it as a competitive learning tool with Revision Buddies apps. Used sensibly, it is a life changing platform that opens possibilities and helps you to develop your social identity and show your friends and family your life developments. However, there are also some aspects of using this, and any social media tool, that can have severe dents on peoples’ mental health and general well being.

Within this new age of edtech, and increasing time spent behind the screen, there needs to be an adaptation on teaching how it should be used responsibly, not just in terms of cyber bullying and safety, but to help students understand the nuance between keeping people updated about your progress, and creating an advert of your life to build your own self-esteem which could ultimately be detrimental to mental health.

Ever notice that the parties that you love the most, you don’t have any photos of? Perhaps this is because you were having so much fun that the thought of recording it went out the window. In fact, whilst it is wonderful to have momentous occasions celebrated through social media, and it is well known that this makes people feel happy and grow in self esteem, it can also be damaging to users who become obsessed about promoting their life and pawing over other peoples’ lives, questioning why they weren’t at THAT party, or why they aren’t eating in this restaurant.

But should we not be teaching students to question why they publish the intricacies of their lives, is it because they want to share their moments with friends and family, or is it to show off where they have been and what they are doing? If they are doing this for the latter reason, then should they not be taught to question their own self confidence and security? Which comes to our next question:

Is it healthy to spend your life with 400 virtual friends that you only communicate your best side to rather than 5 real, living, caring, touching, feeling, laughing ACTUALLY out loud people? Who can see how you are, understand your tears, and comfort you when you need it with a good old fashioned hug? It’s no bad thing to keep in touch with current affairs, people who have moved away, are living abroad, and be brought closer to those in your community, but it should not replace part of the most important interactions for humankind – a physical sense of being there for and with someone. School is not just an academic education, but a social one too, and even with all the developments in technology, nothing is more important than learning how to communicate face to face with real human beings. Tech should enhance relationships, education, communication, it should not replace it.

 Lastly, we question the benefits of documenting your emotions, your loves, your hates, for you and others to be able to access for your life forever. What if you don’t want to see photos of you and your ex boy/girlfriend, or worse, your ex boy/girlfriend and his/her new girl/boyfriend? These photos will be there forever, their posts will haunt you and not allow you to move on, is there a way to help students to realise that pawing over lost parts of our lives can be detrimental? 

Whilst the government may be addressing how writing when you are angry, sad or stressed and hitting ‘send’ or ‘post’ can be very harmful and can never be taken back, should it not also make students consider the dangers of social media as a promotion of oneself, behind a screen, might actually be damaging to your ability to communicate in the real world, leaving a popular cyberite, actually rather alone, depressed and unable to share their true emotions with others.

Do you teach about social media in your school? We’d love to hear about it if so, and how you think that educators can help in ensuring a safe environment for the next generation of internet users.

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