1. I agree that it’s a complicated and nuanced conversation. I’ve come to realize that my experience and perspective is just that, mine. At the same time, I see the danger in some messages about how to behave and share online that set us up as “brands” and something less than human.

    I suppose that my experience early on in online spaces was so much less curated. It was people simply looking for others to connect with. Perhaps that required folks to be more vulnerable. At least that’s what tends to be attractive to me. It was never a competition to me but finding connections. I have an oversensitivity to fake. In fact, I recall an evaluation I got on a speaking engagement about 4 years ago where the attendee referred to me as a phoney. That remains a haunting comment I hope I never get again.

    As adults, we’ll always have folks that use online and offline spaces to represent themselves in a curated fashion. My biggest concern remains the ways in which we talk to our students about this. The stories about teens committing suicide that are related to not being able to keep up to online personas, are most disturbing and in part, we’ve failed as educators to discuss and provide students with alternative perspectives. Maybe it’s simply about developing better self-confidence or self-awareness. I’m not sure. But certainly I feel that you, and I, and others can at least engage educators in some different conversations that might create better citizens. Digital and otherwise.

    • I love this post, George, and Dean, your reply. I have two teen daughters who are actutely constructing & editing their personas on Instagram and have actually told me that they prefer Snapchat so they can be themselves. This at 13 & 16!! I have also seen them become adversely affected by their friends posting pics at a party to which they were not invited. They are the ones who also tell me about some of their peers who will post several selfies in a day and then delete the ones which are not as popular. And this worries me as a mom & an educator and we talk about this as a family all the time. But is social media a vehicle for this but not necessarily a symptom–not sure if that makes sense? I remember, as a teen, looking longingly at the lives of others as being so much more fun & happy, and I know how miserable I was. I often wonder if I would have been worse off if social media were around. Even so, I do catch myself thinking, “Sure wish I was in _____ right now”, but I tend more to be excited for that person. Is this because today I am fairly secure in myself, whereas then I was not? Adolescence and young adulthood is the quintessential insecure and awkward time isn’t it? But does that lack of security come from an excessive use of social media or does a person who tends to be insecure to begin with become more likely to be more adversely affected?
      When I read the tragic story of that young woman, I wonder how many of her “real” friends could have seen beyond the edited posts? Is it like any other tragic story of a young person who is depressed, who hides this from friends and family, leaving minor clues to select people with social media thrown in there as the scapegoat. Are we looking at very human foibles and demonizing social media as a cause or symptom or is there a causal relationship there that I am overlooking? I keep looking for research that will help me to understand this connection better.
      I think there is a real danger in not addressing this conversation explicitly with teens (and maybe with adults too).
      So glad Dean & Ken prompted your thinking about this George and that you are the kind of person who tackles these topics (works through it as you say) so openly and honestly.
      🙂 JCT

  2. Erin Scannell

    Very thought-provoking post and replies. Jennifer, I too am an educator and a mother of two teenagers. I have always felt that my daughter, now 18, is not a critical consumer of media messages in many forms. However, I have not included social media in those forms until today. We, as parents and educators, teach our children (and other people’s children) about the importance of responsible digital citizenship, about creating a positive and purposeful digital image, and to be critical thinkers. But I think we have perhaps not connected these teachings strongly enough. We can’t dig beneath the messages and images that our online friends choose to share, but we can be more aware of the realities that exist for all of us, that we often only share in person within a close circle of live, breathing in person friends. Thanks for helping me see the importance of bringing this facet of critical literacy into our schools, classrooms and homes.

  3. Remember when we used to encourage kids to take charge of their social media accounts to create a positive impression? I wonder if this isn’t the logical outcome.

    • Erin Scannell

      You make a valid point in that we want our children/students to be selective in terms of what they share in order to create that positive online impression, so of course it logically follows that some create the ‘highlight reel’. So how can we change our teaching and modelling to support students in creating a positive yet complete and accurate online image?

      • Social media is by definition social. We have a hard time influencing students in social spaces because we are not one of them. We may get them to think about what they put onto some sites, but there will always be others where they do things we find cringe worthy (and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, we all have done it IRL if not in SM.) I think ultimately we need to be more forgiving of the behavior students project when they are exploring their social boundaries. We, after all, are the adults and we should know these things happen.

    • Great point. I think being authentic is the key. Authenticity implies a fully human picture. Sharing how we’re imperfect but striving for betterment is worth the vulnerability. All in all, our online persona is our trailer. Hopefully we get to see the full movie as we connect and relate to each other.

      • Hil, I am not sure we need to be that open on social media, at least not that open to the public. Is there really a need for students to be authentic as you describe it? It isn’t that being open online is a problem for me so much as the expectation that anyone needs to share fully online.

  4. Jen

    This is such a great discussion to have with our kids and students. It’s so much more important to me now that I’m a mother. Part of me wants to shield my kids but another part of me wants to teach them to “swim” in SM. And not just swim…be the Micheal Phelps of SM because they could get awesome jobs if they are SM experts! Heck… Micheal Phelps could have used a SM expert a few years ago! George…love your honesty and I think you deserve an award too! We all do!

  5. Lia Gyore

    I read it to my children (20 and 16). This is fabulous writing on a hugely important subject. Thank you!

  6. What a terrific read.
    George you confront some of the realities that I feel prevent a lot of people from getting involved in social media professionally; the feeling that they ‘won’t measure up’ or what they say ‘won’t resonate’. No doubt i have felt this many times before re-tweeting or quoting and commenting. But the reality of your post is that there is a humanity behind it all if we dig deep enough. I’m inspired to connect with Ken Shelton and hear of his turmoil and the effort to be grateful for what he has rather than what he lacks. Thank you for diving into this sensitive topic and shedding light on a sometimes awkward aspect of the vulnerability that some of us feel when ‘sharing’ or ‘commenting’. I will be using this post to hopefully encourage more of my colleagues to engage in creating PLC via Twitter this coming year as i move schools. We are all scared in someway or form and what we present is sometimes ‘glossy and showy’ but it is also what we are proud of and want to share with others so we can interact and connect and support and collaborate. While I stay away from Facebook because I simply can’t keep up and professionally i find it to complex to navigate the line between personal and professional ….I have recently found Instagram to be a really neat outlet for me personally to share some of the things in life I appreciate and am grateful for. Whether it be a shot of my Black Lab Sumo or a beautiful shot from my family’s cabin on the West Coast…it is to celebrate, sometimes poke fun but more so, to slow things down and appreciate those moments rather than let them pass by.

  7. GC, thanks for posting your thoughts based upon our conversation. I found that time to be immeasurable in value and thought provocation. What I find to be of the greatest value is having friends like you that help push us to think and do so in a meaningful way. The mantra I usually share with others is “enjoy the current and the now. The past is already gone, and there is no guarantee of the future.” As you outlined, the “highlight reel” we often see may not be the full picture and thus serves only as a dangerous comparison factor that shouldn’t even occur in the first place. Our media is the biggest culprit of creating highlight reels of athletes, celebrities, etc. which only makes it tougher on many of our students since that is often their first point of comparison. I do think that when we have the right platform to show vulnerability, humility, and more importantly, unwavering support that we will begin to break down the divide between idolatry and reality. Much love to you my brother!!

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