Here is a little article I've written for the very lovely Teach Secondary magazine.
I don’t think I’m alone in feeling extremely thankful I grew up without social media. I was a teenager in the early 1990s – I vaguely remember wearing a t-shirt with MC Hammer on it. I ate Pop-Tarts. I thought getting a perm was a good idea. The fact I wasn’t able to publish photographs of myself from this period of my life, for the entire world to see, is a relief.
I’m enormously grateful I couldn’t text boys or stalk celebrities. If social media had existed then, I don’t think I would have got my GCSEs. I would have spent my free time telling the entire internet how annoying my parents were. Thank goodness the only place I could pour out my heartbreak over Bros splitting up was my diary. Just the thought of expressing my teenage angst through continuous updates and selfies gives me nightmares.
But today’s teens are different. They’ve grown up thinking this kind of sharing is normal. They don’t hang Keep Out signs on their bedroom doors or write Top Secret on their diaries. Their iPhones are their not-so-private world. Online chat, blogs, tweets, live streaming – these all provide young people with their own perpetual hot-off-the-press version of Just Seventeen magazine. Only it’s interactive, and they get to update the content. Many young people feel a freedom online that they just don’t get in real life. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Social media can be a vehicle for positive social change. One photograph can be viewed by millions. It’s a tool for self-expression. It can make businesses fail or thrive. It can make you feel less alone. Embracing social media in schools can give young people skills to grow a business, manage a marketing campaign, promote a charitable cause, boost a company’s sales, expose injustice, find people who like their songs, ask for help.
In Being Miss Nobody, I explore the double-edged power of social media. The main character, Rosalind, has selective mutism and can’t articulate in front of anyone at school. She’s seen as the weird girl who doesn’t speak. So, she starts an anonymous blog called Miss Nobody. A place she can finally speak up. But, it isn’t long before everything spirals out of control. The book also explores the instinct to hide things happening online from parents and teachers.
I think it’s important schools embrace social media because so many students are immersed in it. And no, they aren’t texting in Standard English, and maybe, in the future, the entire English language will have been replaced with emojis. But utilising social media can make lessons more fun and engaging, and, let’s face it, teaching acronyms has probably never been easier. Because, you know what? Sometimes, all we need is LOL.
To read the full article and for tips on using social media in the classroom, click here.