Our Children Are Watching … What Are They Seeing?

Social media has changed how we give and receive information, yet we still don’t understand its long-term effects on us or our children.

Courtesy Photo

Alexandria, VA – This post comes courtesy of Superintendent Matthew J. Murphy, Ed. D. of Ramsey School District in New Jersey.

Once upon a time, social media was a means of keeping up with friends. Nowadays, it’s a way to announce who we’re siding with, or an opportunity to throw out unsubstantiated facts or accusations based on little or no facts. Once it was a source of entertainment; now it’s a primary source for news on all topics. National and local elections are upon us, making social media a hotbed for rampant opinion. No doubt about it — social media has changed how we give and receive information, yet we still don’t understand its long-term effects on us. We do know that our children are watching us (even if you think they are not). So do something about it by making a personal pledge that helps our children be children.

Purposefully set an example

Maybe you’ve giggled at someone else’s embarrassment or cringed when your own regrettable moment was shared. It can be tough for adults to handle goofs fueled by social media shares. But guess who else is watching? Every single time you use social media to share your opinion, a quote or even a picture (think of the meaning that a red solo cup sends) you’re sending your child a message about the kind of person you expect he or she to be. While well-intended, think about how many people are “oversharing.” Are we producing a generation that feels everything and everyone must be photographed and shared on social media? Our children are watching (even if you think they are not).

Draw a line between venting and toxicity

As citizens, our community members absolutely have the right to make public comments about what is going on nationally and locally. This includes the right to comment upon our school systems. I would never want to suppress that right or prevent the free exchange of ideas. That would violate our American ideals and run contrary to what we teach our students. We should all remember the important difference between venting frustrations appropriately and responsibly, and turning toxic with baseless commentary that hurts others. Our children are watching (even if you think they are not).

Focus on facts, or stop typing

Someone wise quipped, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” It’s not just a clever saying — it’s a proven fact. It has happened time and time again on social media, and it’s no coincidence that something going “viral” shares the term with sickness. A lone person will post an inaccurate statement with nothing to back it up, other people will spread it via their accounts, and all of a sudden what was untrue has now become part of the public conversation. Before accepting anything as gospel, make sure what you’re passing on is true and accurate. Watch out for posts that start with “Not sure this is true, but…” or “Has anyone else heard…” Step away from the keyboard! You wouldn’t want your kids to be lazy about the facts, right? Sharing questionable material not only can damage an individual, but it can also cause irreversible harm to the morale of a community. Our children are watching (even if you think they are not).

Scrutinize the source

It is easy to write, print and publish just about anything these days, and sometimes readers fall into the trap of thinking clean, neat and slickly produced material must be believable. Don’t fall into that trap. Instead, take the time to look into the Funny Newspaper Generator with Your Own Picture sources and facts that support what you are reading. Don’t assume that because something looks professionally produced means that it’s accurate. Our children are watching (even if you think they are not).

Be nice. Always.

Ramsey School District does not tolerate meanness from our students, and we wish it were not so prevalent on social media. That is an arena in which innocent intent often blooms into hurtful blowback. Our schools and communities are filled with hard-working, well-intentioned and dedicated public servants, and respect and courtesy should guide our interactions. Threats and foul language have no place in our community. Having different viewpoints and working through them respectfully is a hallmark of our democracy. If you resort to attacking the messenger and not the message, you have already lost. Our children are watching (even if you think they are not).

For news: Choose traditional channels over social media 

It’s helpful to remember that “social” media is just that: the best place to see your nephew’s Halloween costume, the recipe your friend wants to try, the fish your father caught on vacation, etc. It’s not called “news media” for a reason, and thankfully most Americans seem to get that. “If America was giving social media a Yelp review, a majority would give it zero stars.” Traditional communication channels remain the best way to learn about the goings-on in the school district.

Social media has its place and can be a tremendous benefit to our community. The Ramsey Public Schools recognizes this by including Digital Citizenship in our curriculum and by expanding our Parent Academies to help parents deal with these very complex issues. I ask our families and communities to use the megaphone of social media to lift up our schools and not to tear them down. We have an incredible community and school district. Let’s keep the positive momentum going!

ACPS thanks Dr. Murphy for giving permission for us to re-publish his message and share it with our community.

Learn more about Digital Citizenship and how it is taught in ACPS.

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