By: Skipper Coates
Working in a Junior High is really interesting. I see these little people in their most awkward and most emotional stage of life. I teach them science, but when I have time I try to squeeze in some life lessons and mentoring. But it doesn’t work if I’m not willing to really hear and understand their situations and problems. Lately, I’ve been really concerned about their mental health, bullying, and social media use.
Today I asked three of my classes to finish this sentence: ‘What my parents don’t know about social media is…’
You guys. The answers were SICKENING. Heartbreaking. Depressing. I asked 85 ninth-graders (ages 14-15) to finish the sentence. FIVE said they don’t have social media accounts. Five. All 85 kids have an average academic grade of an ‘A’… by all accounts they are ‘good kids.’ Here are the common things confessed by the 80 kids with social media accounts.
I’ve been teaching for 10 years now. When I started in 2004, a few kids had Nokia and Motorola flip phones. Our biggest concern as teachers was whether or not the kids were texting during tests.
My husband is a Doctor of Behavioral Health, and I’ve often had talks with him about the increased use of social media in the classroom. For the first few years it seemed pretty harmless. But it slowly became a tool for kids to do the things they’ve always done. There have always been bullies, there have always been promiscuous teens, and there have always been those on the fringe who experiment with drugs.
Social media quickly became a platform for all of this though. What could once be done privately, after school, is now happening before, during, after school, and in the middle of the night, and it’s being broadcast to an audience that doesn’t understand long term consequences. In our family we have an 11-year-old, and I’ve gone back and forth on how much technology we’re going to allow in his life.
I decided that it would be interesting to ask the teens in my classroom what they thought about putting social media into my child’s hands. I wanted them to give me the honest truth, so I promised them complete anonymity if they would be willing to finish the sentence, ‘What my parents don’t know about social media is…’ I had no idea they were going to be so honest.
Out of the 85 kids who answered, about 70 of them admitted to keeping some kind of social media secret from their parents. It crushed me. I decided to share the information because I believe we are on the brink of a serious mental-health crisis with this generation. They carry these heavy secrets that come with deep emotions, but aren’t learning the appropriate outlets for that emotion, and they aren’t learning how to get secrets off their chests.
I’ve been in the classroom for the introduction of Pinterest, SnapChat, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger. As I’ve watched this technology change I’ve seen a direct correlation to the happiness of the kids in my classes.
I took away two big ideas after I read their responses:
1) This is a problem that can’t be solved with more technology. We have to give them credit and recognize that they are incredibly clever when it comes to social media, and
2) No more talking about the dangers of social media. Just start talking. Period. These kids are looking for emotional outlets…for people who will not judge them when they make mistakes. We need to put down our own phones long enough to build face-to-face relationships so our kids don’t need to seek validation from peers and strangers.
Parents of the world, WAKE. UP. Your kids are living in a world that you are not invited to be part of. And they know how to keep you out. Your teenager DOES NOT NEED a smart phone.
I LOVE these teenage people. It is easy to be critical of the kids, of the parents, and of me. Let’s use this as an opportunity to show my students good digital citizenship. Be kind. Have compassion. In the coming days, I will be working closely with my school, community, and local therapists to learn more about how we can help.
Skipper Coates lives in Pleasant Grove, Utah with her husband and three children. She has been teaching for 10 years. She loves her job because she gets to laugh everyday because her students are so clever.
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