In 2011, we noticed that many of the parents at The Seattle Girls’ School (an independent middle school in the Central District of Seattle) were becoming increasingly concerned about how to handle their students’ social media usage. The administration at the school decided they wanted to help parents navigate this increasingly sticky issue and we offered to help.
We began by designing an anonymous survey that was given to each of the students at the school, asking about the kinds of social media they use, how often, and what they used it for as well as their understanding of online privacy and risks associated with social media use. Students were also offered the opportunity to expand on any answers they wished to. The data was broken down by grade level.
We shared the survey results with parents and staff at a roundtable discussion event and highlighted areas of concern and trends we noted. Many parents were surprised at the level of online usage the children reported and it became clear, in this instance, that many of the students had a false or incomplete understanding of their relative amount of privacy online.
- Parents learned how to have conversations with their children regarding social media, different ways to teach their children about internet safety and how to have positive interactions online as well as what to do when confronted with difficult situations. Tips ranged from the abstract to the practical and the roundtable format allowed families to share their ideas with one another and encouraged many to open up new lines of communication with their students about social media use.
- The results of the survey also spurred staff interest in talking with the students about using social media deliberately and mindfully. Students were asked to think about the ultimate goal of their online usage and evaluate whether their most recent posts on Facebook, Instagram, etc. reflected the persona they wanted people to associate with them. They were encouraged to think critically about their social media presence as a whole picture whose creation they control, but distribution and interpretation they do not.
Note: The students at the Seattle Girls’ School range in age from ten to 13. The survey is relevant for both middle school and high school student populations.