Social Media, Digital Citizenship, Adolescent Development

Jo Fothergill

Jo Fothergill

Recently, I was reminded of the importance of understanding childhood development, and how it applies to social media and digital citizenship. Our children, particularly our adolescents, are heavily engaged in social media during a crucial time of physical, emotional, and mental developmental changes. This translates to potential problems in these areas if they are disrupted by issues on social media.

As a teacher, I engage in social media mainly for professional purposes. I am not concerned about identity development, AND my interactions are always quite positive. Until the other day. I experienced my first confrontational messages over social media, and was unfollowed and blocked. He since apologized and deleted his tweets, but this reminded me that though I could put it in its proper place, have a growth mindset and move on, this probably happens a lot more with adolescents due to their developmental stages.

This truly made me think deeper about students and social media.

What do we know about adolescents?

We know that adolescents have not fully developed the parts of their brains that regulate emotion and impulsivity. Further, adolescent minds tend to experience more emotion and the capacity for self-regulation may not be fully developed.

We also know that social identity matter a lot to adolescents AND how they ‘appear’ to their peers. What we as teachers do not ‘see’ on social media still affects adolescents very deeply.

Therefore, I think we need to go beyond basic digital citizenship, and incorporate the aspects of critical literacy, metacognition, voice & identity – what we already do in our literacy programs.

Whether or not students are being bullied, educators still need to incorporate strategies to help our students navigate the virtual world.  How will we help to guide our own students who are dealing with stress as it comes from social media – bullying or not. How does this infiltrate into the classroom, learning and teaching?

Potential Issues faced among adolescents and social media

  • Being followed, not followed, or unfollowed by classmates,
  • Not having anything positive to share and collaborate with online, which amplifies negative incidences
  • Lack of personalization – we don’t really know who the person is, we have lost personalization and a lot of information we would normally get from face-to-face interactions
  • Impulsivity and jumping conclusions before clarifying intentions
  • No break. Kids don’t have a break from this – they are connected with SM 24/7, and most teachers and parents do not understand what is going on and the extra turmoil that many students are experiencing
  • New layers of communication, and dimensions of life at play- yet parents and teachers did not grow up with this reality.

My Recommendations for Digital Citizenship and Adolescents:

1.  Provide explicit feedback for students based on where they are at in their minds – not our minds! This means really getting to know them!

2. Forget the worksheet. Teach students how to respond online – this is a MAJOR part of our world now!

3. Actively create positive online communities for your students.

4. Engage in critical literary discussions and work surrounding social media and digital citizenship

5. Help students create meaningful networks on their own. 

6. Teach students what to do when faced with negativity online. Be explicit. Give explicit feedback.

7. Normalize the feelings that students have, and help them learn to handle it

8. Help students self-regulate and self-understand their own lives, biases, values, and norms – metacognition and other higher order thinking skills are important

9. Help students experience positivity online. That way, when negativity does happen, your students have experience and reminders that they have positive things that they can be proud of.

10. Help students learn to create positive digital footprints, so that they can be reminded that they have valuable things to contribute online,

11. Recognize that the students who may be impacted most by negative social media are perhaps the ones that are using it because they have little opportunity to share their voice in other aspects of life. This can be particularly devastating to the introverted or sensitive child who does not feel they have a voice at school

12. Help students to develop metacognitive strategies. Provide explicit feedback for students based on where they are at in their minds – not our minds! This means really getting to know them! that promote a growth mindset where they can learn from their mistakes, and understand their emotions with regard to the behaviours of others online.

What other recommendations do you have?

Deborah McCallum


© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Students Accessing Inappropriate Sites at School ?!?


Since the dawn of internet being available in our schools, there have always been students accessing inappropriate sites at school. Up until recently, many school boards have imposed internet ‘filters’ to block inappropriate sites, and to prevent students from engaging in Social Media while at school. However, in this day in age, filters have become more and more complicated, and with many school boards opting to lift the sheer number of filters at play, we as educators need to understand how to effectively help our students manage technology and the internet.

The lifting of filters may sound shocking to some people however, because with less filters, students can access even more inappropriate sites, including Social Media sites that provide distractions.  Anything and everything is instantly available at our fingertips. Further, we end up asking many more questions including those that address the interrelationships between internet and social media behaviours and physical and emotional behaviours that can manifest within a learning environment.

Our teaching practice can evolve to incorporate these realities into our existing curriculum!

Many of us would like to believe that we can keep our schools walled and safe from negative outside sources, but the truth is, we cannot anymore. (Especially with more and more schools adopting a BYOD strategy.)

The truth is, that we as Educators need to be aware that students will always try to access inappropriate sites. We have a new reality at our fingertips, and we need to strive toward new and innovative ways,  to ensure our schools remain safe places for students to learn and take risks, and without worry that they will be socially or emotionally harmed in any way.

5 Ways our schools can be proactive:

1.  Have active digital citizenship documents within every school. Personalize these documents to that school and community.

2.  Have clear and equitable BYOD policies within your school. All schools have staff and students who are bringing their own device – and even if there are no ‘official’ policies, how many of us have allowed students to use them?? Understand and set clear parameters when students can use them, when they can’t; where devices can be safe and secured, what devices will be available to those students who do not have them.

3.  Set clear parameters for internet usage, reinforce them, and embed them into daily practice. These parameters cannot be effectively reinforced and embedded when students are only using computers for one period, once a week. We need a new mind-shift that incorporates this kind of critical thinking into other periods of the day, everyday.

4.  Provide students with safe and educational options for using, and interacting with each other on the internet. Give them a clear purpose, and safe options.

5.  Never forget good pedagogical practices. Continue to use effective teaching strategies and practices, and always promote Higher order thinking skills for our students to use and apply to situations outside of the school environment.

We can all work together to help each other educate our students about the great big world that exists on the internet, each and every day. Our students look up to us as leaders, and also look toward us for safety and security. We can still provide this for our students, they need us more than ever.

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Social Media, Digital Citizenship, Critical Thinking


We all know that social media platforms hold large databases of our personal information. Even when we think we have deleted a post…it still exists with the companies. Even though we don’t know what will happen with this data in the future, we need to engage in real critical inquiry about the ramifications for the future, of what is shared now. What will become of student data in the future, and how is it being used or sold now? How can we help our students to think critically about how they use Social Media Platforms? How can we as teachers think critically about it?

Despite the fact that our students appear to be absolute whizzes at navigating the technical aspects of our computers and devices, we still have no clear road map of the future and how the things we share online will affect us. Remember that nothing we post online will ever go away. However, new ways of ‘using’ this information will always evolve. Critical thinking, reflection, and creativity is absolutely essential to begin to consider options that no one has ever had answers to. 

Part of our Digital Citizenship curriculum should entail reviewing more in-depth and confusing Privacy and Security options on Facebook, and helping students to understand their implications for the future.

There are quite a few settings that, if not managed properly, will expose private information about you, especially for advertisers to make money.

Some Questions to ask your students, and to keep in mind when students are on Social Media:

  • Do you really know who is able to see your photos?
  • Do you understand that each digital picture shares information of exactly where the pic was taken, UNLESS you turn off location data in your settings? (This should be old news, but is amazing how many people still do not know this)
  • Did you know that social media platforms often earn money off of you? You get the services for free for the privilege of giving away your personal information.
  • Did you know that by default, all of your Facebook posts are public?
  • Did you know that what you post can end up on content aggregators such as Graph Search?
  • Did you know that by default, your friends are allowed to share your profile information with app & gaming publishers on apps like Facebook?
  • Did you know that whatever you ‘like’ is used to customize ads for you, and for others who have similar profiles to you?
  • Did you know that your name and images are shown in ads to your ‘friends’ on Facebook?
  • Did you know that by default, Facebook automatically shares your profile information with other websites you visit?
  • Did you know that by default, your profile, basic information, and photo are always Public and indexed on Google?
  • Do you know how to opt out of any of these settings?

When students and teachers apply critical thinking skills to decisions these questions, we can take steps to improving our Digital Citizenship Curriculum, and the Digital Footprints of our students.

What is our responsibility today toward our students, when we do not even know what tomorrow will look like?

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

12 Key Digital Citizenship Considerations

Students of younger and younger ages students are becoming increasingly involved with the internet and social media.

It is important for educators to help students navigate this world. However, it is also essential for educators to BE that good example for our students for the future. This could include setting up educational social media accounts for our classes, however also not making all of the details, always public.

The fact is, whether we agree with this fact or not, many children and students have access, and these numbers will only continue to grow.

Children are not developmentally aware of the world at large, and the truth is, that even adults can have difficulty understanding in abstract terms of the reach of social media. In real life, students have parents, teachers, other educators  who may or may not understand how to help appropriately guide them through effective digital citizenship practices. However, online, it is detrimental that students not to be left to their own ‘devices’ so to speak, to navigate the world of social media.

Educators are implicitly, if not yet explicitly faced with the new tasks of teaching students digital citizenship and digital literacy skills. We are also faced with the tasks of educating our students, parents, and communities about how to manage the ‘online presence’. This is regardless of a) whether or not teachers own personal philosophies include children having their own devices and using them; or b) educators feel personally comfortable or uncomfortable using social media. 

Digital Citizenship Considerations

1. The Internet is Forever. Everything posted on the Internet will always exist somewhere. Sending out a public ‘tweet’ about your students, for example, is a lot like standing on top of a building and shouting that information out for the world to know.

2. Children’s Rights to Safety and Privacy. We are the examples for our children. We provide explicit reasons to our students about why we do not share information about their daily lives publicly online, and we teach them to do the same. The usage of hashtags, ‘friend’ connections, and other identifying information that innocently goes out in posts can inadvertently put children in harms way. Further, tweeting about locations and the whereabouts of classes on field trips (for instance) can alert predators, and cause problems in terms of potential custody issues. This is very serious for our students, and we need to balance the desire to use technology with the need for privacy for our students both now and in the future. Further, the metadata of everything that gets shared publicly about the lives of our students can paint a very detailed picture of everything we are doing, and the lives of our students.

3. Security and Privacy Settings. We need to be aware of the fact that many social media platforms are continually updating and revising their privacy options. Further, even if a student is not ‘friends’ with someone on Facebook, they can still be tagged in others photos. Students with a Social Media account, can stay safer if their privacy settings are such that no one is allowed to tag them in photos.

4. Perception.  A students’ perceived and real social status greatly affects behaviour and self-esteem. It is often measured by how many ‘friends’ one has, but other factors also come into play. This is a very important reality for Educators to understand, and embed Character Education Initiatives and growth mindsets to improve how students perceive themselves, and improve learning.

5. Critical Thinking. Different forms of Social Media are used for different purposes. Educators can strive to understand the different uses of different social media applications. For instance, Facebook is often used as a way to share pictures and information about one’s family and friends; Pinterest is a way to curate pictures of things that students may find interesting. Twitter is generally for posting quick messages in 140 characters or less, and can be valuable in getting important messages out to many people via hashtags. However, publicly using hashtags and personal details and information about the daily workings of your students can paint a very clear picture to other people about what is going on. There is a key difference between what an adult may feel comfortable doing, and how we need to change those online behaviours to respect our students.

6. Privacy and Safety. More and more students are bringing their handheld devices to school, and are also allowed to as more and more educators are allowing such devices as part of BYOD programs, and in teaching students to use them effectively in the curriculum to document their own learning. However, we must be aware of how these devices are being used when students are out of the classroom, but still on school grounds. Are our all of our students ‘safe’ to take personal learning risks and be themselves at school without the risk of being recorded or exploited.

7. Managing negative behaviours and images. Even bullying and blackmail can be difficult situations our students can find themselves facing. Learn about who you need to contact, and how you can help students engage in positive ways online, or turn off the social media when they need to. Growth mindsets can help here too.

8. Character Education, & Growth Mindsets. Students need to understand that what goes out on the internet, stays on the internet forever. Mistakes happen, and we learn how to manage them and move on with a Growth Mindset. It is easy for students to create false identities and false realities. It is also easy for students to not understand that what others are saying may not be true, or embellished. A lack of understanding surrounding what is real and what is not can also perpetuate an illusion of feeling ‘safe’ or ‘anonymous’ while online.

9. Online tracking. Beyond the use of ‘Cookies’ in your browser, many places on the internet are following you and collecting information about your behaviours, likes and interests online. With Facebook, even advertisers and data aggregators are secretly following you to target their advertisements appropriately and make more money from you. Students information is also now being used in Facebook’s new ‘Graph’ search. It is unimaginable about what will be able to be tracked in the future.

10. So-called ‘Friends’. Research has pointed to the act of obtaining ‘friends’ on Facebook as lighting up the same areas of the brain that sugar and other drugs target to make people feel better. Educators can help students to be critical thinkers, make wiser decisions, and provide positive educational avenues for using social media appropriately. Further, assuming all of your online ‘Friends’ are real friends can cause problems, especially when publicly announcing where students will be and what they are doing, including custody issues.

11. Digital Footprint: Educators need to be conscious that we are not inadvertently sharing faces and personal information about students online. Let’s work together to be very clear about the digital footprint we are creating for our students. What if, when they grow up, they decide that they did not appreciate having their picture shared online? Facial recognition will be state of the art. Are we allowed to make certain choices for our students before they are ready?

12. Looking to the Future: 10 years of unmanaged social networking will most definitely have an impact when our students enter adulthood. Educators can start integrating this into their work throughout the curriculum that helps students to think ahead to their futures and become good citizens online, and off.

Social Media and the internet are affecting our students of younger and younger ages. We have the tasks now of not just educating our students to have good character and growth mindsets at school and in our community, but also understanding the worlds they belong to in cyberspace. Schools can help our students greatly by also using Social Media to educate the entire community and provide safe and reliable information outside of school. After all, there are many young students who are already on their way to building their online presences that will help shape who they are, and may even last a lifetime.

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.