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Should social media be taught in school?

30 Oct 2014

As social media becomes a part of everyday life, more people are entering into the discussion about whether it should be covered in the school curriculum.

Recent statistics show 83 percent of teens in the U.S. aged 14-18 are on a social network, whether Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or all of the above. Over 90 percent share their personal names and photos and about 20 percent share their cell phone number, according to Pew Research Center figures from 2013. There is a one in seven chance that someone with an internet connection can locate these details.

Dennis Kelly, president of the United Educators of San Francisco says that while social media is important, other things are too and teachers shouldn’t be overworked. Others say social media is already a large part of students’ lives and teachers should see this as an opportunity, not a burden, to have healthy conversations.

Various organisations are already teaching kids about social media. Volunteers from Fordham Law School has recently begun teaching seventh graders in New York about online privacy and similar programs are developing throughout the country, everywhere from Harvard University to Yale. However, some say instead of being part of out of school programs, it should be a part of the in school curriculum.

A Hillsborough County public school in Florida has a new program that allows students to bring their phones, tablets and laptops to school. Along with this, students will be trained how to handle themselves safely and responsibly online. They will be taught the dangers of cyberbullying, how to create secure passwords, avoid identity theft and leave a positive digital footprint.

“As a parent, we've always sent our kids into the world to develop, learn and grow,” says John Milburn, the district's supervisor of elementary library media services. “We taught them to be safe, who not to talk to, where to go if you get in trouble. This is just another world — it's a digital world. But they still need to know how to be safe.”

It is important for kids to respect social media and understand that actions do have consequences says Sylvia Powell, a youth worker employed by the Rotorua police in New Zealand. She says most young people use social media wisely and are respectful but some use it to engage in bullying, and while police do what they can to identify online bullies some websites fall outside of the jurisdiction of New Zealand laws.

Powell says a simple and obvious fix when bullying strikes is to delete the account, but it’s not this simple as being accepted is a big part of the developmental stage of adolescence.

Along with teaching personal privacy and safe internet usage, teens could be taught how to use social media for their jobs. A recent study conducted by a job search site showed a spike in employers looking for people with social media skill sets. Instagram skills were up 644 percent from 2012 and those wanting people with experience with Twitter was up 44 percent. If these trends continue, social media could become another subject to choose, with topics such as online reputation, privacy and how to use the sites as a useful tool all on the agenda.

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