What we do as educators and what we do as parents is support kids.
At our best, when stress, or anxiety, or frustration doesn’t cloud our actions, we approach that even headed wisdom of Atticus Finch, who told his boy: ““There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.” I’ve been a dad for a great many years and I seldom come anywhere close to living that kind of perspective.
Even so, it helps us all to reflect on our work with students and ask ourselves the questions that make us the best contributors to these young lives we can be. For me, that means reading books that challenge me, and engaging in conversation with others who care.
In less than a week a group of such kindred spirits will gather for our first San Dieguito Book Club of the year, when we’ll discuss a topic on many minds of parents and teachers of teenagers: technology.
Specifically, our discussion will center around It’s Complicated, a book by danah boyd (no caps, her idea) subtitled “the social lives of networked teens.” For any of us who have been around a teen with a phone, this is ground rich with relevance.
I suppose I should have spotted the irony that when I introduced the book, and the idea of living in an age when folks (not just teenagers) are glued to phones and other electronic devices, at a “Coffee with the Principal” it was a parent who raised her hand halfway through my talk to let parents know that they could get a copy of the book for free by downloading the PDF at http://www.danah.org/books/ItsComplicated.pdf
…and point expanded upon, as we all realized that this parent had not only underscored the idea that we’re all more connected than we’ve ever been, but that sometimes that kind of immediacy and connection is a very good thing. Heck, it just saved parents $10.95.
It’s Complicated takes an equally positive view of the “social lives of networked teens” as it describes the world our students live in, virtually at least, in a way that doesn’t alarm, but does inform.
The book’s eight chapters are formed around questions: “Why do teens seem strange online?” and “Are today’s youth digital natives?” to name two. They’re questions many educators wonder about and parents spend time struggling to find answers to.
As I prepped for Tuesday’s book club, I asked some of my students what they thought the answers were to the author’s eight questions. A sampling looks like this…
“Why do youth share so publicly?”
“We share a lot, but not a lot that is meaningful. That’s kind of the beauty of social media.”
“A lot of the time when adults see us on our phones we’re just communicating with another person, a private message to them, not social media.”
“What makes teens so obsessed with social media?”
“No more than adults. It’s just part of what we do.”
“Is social media amplifying meanness and cruelty?”
“It amplifies the negative and the positive. I go to social media for inspiration and find it.”
“People who are going to be mean or cruel are going to be mean and cruel in person too.”
These are just a few thoughts; I’m hopeful more students will come on Tuesday and be willing to share. As a parent and a principal, I found their points of view honest and thoughtful.
In addition to individual students, I was able to talk with a couple of classes about their relationship with social media, and the result was …reassuring.
Certainly social media plays a part in many of the students lives, often providing information, inspiration, and connections to friends near and far. There are downsides too, and they were quick to identify that seeing some posts made them feel bad about themselves, and that on occasion the anonymity of the internet allowed people to be negative in ways they wouldn’t if their name was attached to comments.
The thoughtful conversations I had with these students inspired me, and reassured me that kids today have more poise than my own generation had when we were in high school.
I look forward to our discussion next week and the possibility of leaving the evening a little more informed and a little more connected to people who are all working toward the same simple goal: helping students.
The San Dieguito Book Club will meet on Tuesday, October 18, from 6:00-8:00 pm in the media center. Students, parents, teachers, and all members of our SDA family are welcome to attend.