July 19, 2024
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TABC Presents a Real Look at Social Media for Students

Teaneck—Parents gathered at Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC) last week to gain a better understanding of how technology, especially social media, has impacted society for children. The goal of the night was to educate parents on these topics to help them make better, more informed decisions for their children as they relate to social media and technology, as well as make them aware of some useful technology resources available to help children with their study needs.

The event, which was filled by a standing room only crowd, was titled “Understanding the Digital Native,” and featured three speakers: Rabbi Steven Finkelstein, Director of Guidance at TABC; Seth Dimbert, Director of Innovation at Yeshivat Noam; and Vincent Varrassi, an educational consultant.

While social media is new for many, the reality is that these types of talks are not new. Finkelstein reminded the audience that five to ten years ago parents were being advised to place their computer in a public area of the home to make it easier to monitor their children’s activities. However, the current reality is that many children today have a more powerful computer on their person at all times—namely their phones—with more access to information than ever before because of the “always on” nature of the Internet and social media.

To put this in perspective, as of 2012 Pew Research’s studies have shown that 95% of all teens ages 12 17 were online, 78% owned a cell phone, and 81% of online teens used some kind of social media, with no indication that adoption would decrease in the future.

So what’s the big deal when it comes to social media? Isn’t it all about enabling adults and teens alike to better communicate? Not really.

Dimbert reminded the audience that “the people who build these websites did it to make money,” and the product they’re selling is relationships. “Any service on the Internet you use for free, you are the product.”

Each individual’s action on the Internet is aggregated as part of a larger strategy by a variety of companies. One of the buzzwords often heard in a professional social media environment is “big data.” Companies strive to aggregate data about their customers, prospects, and various audience segments from as many sources as possible to make it easier to sell products and services, with social media sites being one piece of the equation. In addition, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook offer advertising options that allow companies to target their messages to specific groups of people based on their activities, interests, and social interactions. Lastly, there is a whole industry of social intelligence vendors that run search queries against public data on social sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, forums, blogs, and even customer reviews, to help companies learn more in the areas of reputation management, customer insight, product development, and customer service.

When it comes to social media, make no mistake; personal data in aggregate form is the product these sites are selling to others. Parents need to be aware of this and realize that although social media’s use by children is as a communication tool, itshould be done in a safe and responsible way.

How can parents accomplish this task?

Dimbert stressed that all parents should “be aware of what your children are doing online; that’s your job.” How can parents do this without becoming overbearing and creating distance between themselves and their children? They need to ask their children about it and have a strong level of open communication. In addition, Dimbert advised, parents should inform their children of both the benefits of social media and other related technologies, as well as the potential risks. One such risk is in the category of ephemeral messaging apps, such as Snapchat, which is the concept of a message only being available for a short period of time before it disappears forever.

These self-destruct messaging services are appealing to some teens to enable bullying and inappropriate conduct without fear of getting caught or having it come back to haunt them in the future. However, as the CEO of Snapchat expressed at a Techcrunch conference, Snapchat can’t prevent their content from getting out into public view. With more schools and companies looking at social profiles during candidate evaluations, parents and students need to be aware of the potential risks of sharing content that could be deemed inappropriate, whether messages are ephemeral or not.

However, before jumping to any conclusions that social media and technology is completely bad, the speakers said that it’s important to better understand why children want to use it. For many, not having access to these technologies creates a sense of being left out from the crowd around them. Finkelstein told a story of one boy who wanted to be on Facebook to access a page his whole class was using to share information.

Not having access disconnected him from the group and made him feel like an outsider, even though no one was actually treating him like one. The challenge for parents is balancing their guidelines and rules while not alienating their children from the social society around them.

Finkelstein also stressed the importance of not only having open communication with one’s children, but also the need for parents themselves to set an example by disconnecting from their devices to let children see firsthand how they should behave.

Researchers at Boston Medical Center recently went undercover at 15 fast food restaurants to observe how parents interact with their children while dining. Parents in 40 of the 55 families observed were absorbed in their mobile devices and almost a third of the parents used their devices continuously throughout their meal.

Finkelstein noted how important it is that parents give their children proper attention to enable proper in person communication and relationship building, which will help make children more receptive to a parent’s concerns as it relates to social media and other related technologies.

With all of this said, everyone knows technology is only going to become more embedded in daily life. This is also true for students, not only on a personal level, but when it comes to doing their homework.

Varrassi pointed out though that “the very tools kids need to use to do their homework is actually the source of their distraction.”

However, he also shared that there are many aspects to technology that can also help mitigate this level of distraction and can aid in the learning process. One such tool Varrassi pointed out was Quizlet.com, a free tool that lets students and adults create various types of flashcards. However, in addition to simple flashcards the tool also contains various gaming elements—known as gamification—to further ease knowledge retention. Gamification, which is the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, is found in all areas of business. For example, WalMart uses gamification to engage staff and help them learn about the myriad of product offerings found in the store, allowing them to provide better interactions with their customers.

Having students study a subject using multiple methods helps keep them focused, while increasing overall retention. Social media also presents an opportunity to further aid in student education.

In a survey conducted by the University of Phoenix College of Education, it was discovered that only 18% of surveyed teachers integrate social media into their classrooms, though a larger group realize the potential it holds. Some of these benefits include helping students practice concise writing and enabling them to connect with various influencers and subject matter experts that would not be reachable through other channels.

Social media and other technologies certainly have risks, but parents need to also realize the benefits that can also be attained through these tools. Finkelstein pointed out that we can’t maintain perfect control in the lives of our children as it relates to the technology they are using. Taking steps to better understand how these tools work and listening to children regarding why they want to use them will help parents preserve family values in their children’s daily lives, without alienating them from the current social environment.

Rich Gans is the Director of Social Media at a global insurance company. Follow him on Twitter at @Richard_Gans for updates on trends related to social media and technology.

 

By Rich Gans

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