Is Social Media Education the New Driver’s Ed?

Laura Tierney
April 4, 2019

Imagine this scenario: a middle-school teacher announces that today the class will be doing something a little different -- students will being learning about social media in class.

I’m sure you can imagine the students’ reactions: eyes rolling, thinking about how they know more about social media than the teacher does, and wishing that the lesson would just be over already. Just like how the classroom portion of driver’s ed can be dull -- so too are lectures and “don’ts” regarding social media use.

But here comes the paradox. In this scenario, the teacher asks students to join an interactive game that they project on the classroom whiteboard. Rather than harping on the negatives of social media, the game challenges students to navigate social media and technology positively. Rather than being lectured by the teacher, the students hear from positive role models — older students both at their school and across the country. Rather than focusing on the “Don’ts” of social media, students learn what to do in difficult, yet common social situations. And rather than being a one-off lesson, students end the game looking forward to playing another new lesson next month. It would be like the behind the wheel portion of driver’s ed -- giving the kids real world experience.

Reframing Social Media Education

The future of social media education is not fear-based, focused on one-offs, or created by adults. The future of this important education is bright, empowering, sustainable, and most importantly, co-created with students.

How? Thanks to input from 30,000 students over three years, our organization, The Social Institute, recently launched #WinAtSocial, the world’s only gamified social media curriculum that empowers students to navigate social media and technology positively.

During the past three years, we have been in the trenches with students, parents, and educators - brainstorming best practices and ways to make learning about social media more fun, engaging, and impactful. We have huddled with leaders at over 70 public and independent schools, and we’ve learned how schools are approaching this important education in a new forward-thinking and innovative way.

Here are three ways schools are reframing their approach to social media education:

1. Go bottom-up, instead of top-down.

When it comes to social media, students will always be ahead of the game. Rather than using a top-down approach, in which students are lectured by adults (who know less than they do!), we empower students to co-lead the program and “coach up” to adults. Student focus groups help develop materials and lesson plans, ensuring they are most relevant to the apps and behaviors students witness online. And if a student wants a new phone or a new app, we encourage parents to put their children in the driver’s seat and encourage them to “coach up”, coaching you on how they will use a smartphone or the newest trending app positively.

2. Consider social emotional learning, not digital citizenship.

In my work with students, I’ve learned that attempts by adults to teach kids about “digital citizenship” is falling on deaf ears. It’s meaningless to them because it divides a child’s world into two halves: digital and physical. For kids who are digital natives, there is no separation. Their world is digital.

How tweens and teens act online is how they act, period. Let’s stop separating their world with terms like “digital footprint,” “digital citizenship,” and “online reputation.” Everything they do, everywhere, is a reflection of their values and character.

3. Have sustainable education, not one-offs.

If we really want a message to sink in with our children, repetition is key. Any parent knows this -- after all, how often do our kids clean their room the first (or second) time we ask? Repetition is the mother of all learning: it instills confidence and reinforces values.

Rather than having one-off social media assemblies or one-off talks with our kids at home, we designed the #WinAtSocial program to empower students, parents, and educators throughout the entire year. Lessons developmentally build on one another and grow with the kids.

When schools and parents team up to reframe their approach to helping kids navigate social media, everyone wins. The opening scenario you imagined becomes a reality, and kids are proactively equipped to make positive decisions with a device in their hand.

Written by

Laura Tierney

Laura Tierney is the Founder and CEO of The Social Institute, empowering students and their role models to navigate social media and technology in positive, high character ways. Within two years, her team’s unique gamified social media curriculum, co-created with over 50,000 students at 60 schools nationwide, has been touted as the gold standard in the country. Their positive, student-led approach has been applauded by Melinda Gates on Twitter and featured by The Washington Post, NPR, and USA Today.