A recent study completed by the Pew Research Center in 2015 finds that more and more teenagers are using social media as a primary means of communication. Whether the app is Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter or the growing number of other programs out there, one thing is clear, teenagers love social media.

In many ways, social media is a beneficial medium to connect with friends and the community in which they are engaged in. Within education, social media is also an effective method to convey information regarding classes and to keep informed about educational issues and events. 

However, with increasing frequency, students are finding their use of social media is leading to school impacts and consequences. Just recently, 10 incoming Freshman students to Harvard University had their admissions rescinded as a result of posting inappropriate memes to an online chat group. Within the State of Nevada, Lyon County School District is working through resolving allegations of racial bullying in Yerington which began with a social media post. 

A quick search on the web can find a number of other examples in which the use of social media has landed one or more students in hot water both legally and in the school setting. 

Frequently I am asked, why should a student’s post on their personal social media account, usually after school, have any bearing within their education? The reality is a student’s social media post quickly becomes enmeshed in the school setting as their friends and peers both see and share the post. Once this happens, an impact on the educational environment has occurred. 

One of the most frequent examples of this impact is in relation to cyberbullying which is becoming increasingly pervasive. The definition of cyberbullying can be found in NRS 388.123 and includes the use of technology to both bully or transmit sexual images (student to student) of a minor. Sexting also potentially leads to other significant impacts as defined in NRS 200.737. In addition, the use of social media to issue a threat can lead to legal or disciplinary action. 

To address this issue, HCSD has adopted policy that aligns with statute and ensure a “safe and respectful” learning environment for all students and staff. As a result, technology use away from school can quickly transition to the school setting leading to potential disciplinary action. 

It is important to note that social media can be both a positive and powerful tool when used in the right context. So how do we, as parents, community members and school staff, assist our students in understanding appropriate uses for social media? 

As with most learning, the most important place is in the home. This starts with parents modeling the appropriate use of social media. Social media should not be used if it has the potential to be harmful, derogatory or demeaning. A key thought is, understanding once something hits the web, it never goes away, would we want our post to be seen in 3, 5 or 10 years? 

Parents should work directly with their students to define what apps and media are permissible to use. In addition, parents are encouraged not to allow “hidden apps” which appear to be a mundane app but actually are used to hide documents and pictures. I encourage parents to know the passwords for their student’s technology and frequently check their activity. As one parent has said, until they are paying for their own phone and internet, I have every right to check what my child is doing. Supports can be found for parents on the web, such as https://educateempowerkids.org/dangerous-apps-2017/.

As a district, we are moving towards opportunities for 1 to 1 computer access as well as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) opportunities. As education evolves with the opportunities afforded through technology, ensuring the appropriate use of technology and social media will be essential. The importance of this is reflected in a saying attributed to Frank Outlaw:

Watch your THOUGHTS, they become your WORDS

Watch your WORDS, they become your ACTIONS

Watch your ACTIONS, they become your HABITS

Watch your HABITS, they become your CHARACTER

Watch your CHARACTER, for it becomes your DESTINY

Dr. David Jensen is the Superintendent of Schools for Humboldt County School District. He can be reached at 775-623-8218 or at djensen@hcsdnv.com.