Total Education Blog

Social Media and Me – Helpful or Harmful?

Friday, October 26, 2018

Earlier this year, SOTE’s Grade 12 students gave a talk to the Combined Parents Meeting on the topic of “Social Media and Me – Helpful or Harmful?”.

The students engaged enthusiastically with the topic, with many addressing both sides of the argument. Between them, the students provided a range of viewpoints which were interesting and useful for the parents to hear. Their talks showed that they are very aware of recent events such as the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal and Mark Zuckerberg’s subsequent ten-hour grilling by the US Senate. The students are also aware of the use of social media by online bullies. It became clear during the session that the Year 12s had learned new information about social platforms as they were preparing their individual talks.

For example, James Fern expressed surprise at the length of time it took for Zuckerberg to give his testimony to the US Senate on Facebook’s entanglement with Cambridge Analytica, but was heartened by Facebook’s commitment to making changes to its platform in response to users’ concerns about their data security and privacy. James also referenced the extent to which Facebook can track the web browsing habits of its users, even when its users surf away from the Facebook site. 


Amelia McLaren told parents and teachers that social media (and other communications apps that are used on mobile devices) is a crucial communications channel for older teenagers, especially during school holidays, and as teens start to want to make their own, parent-free, arrangements for meeting their friends. Amelia also spoke about contracts such as the “Family Cell Phone Agreement”, stating that some of the rules in such contracts may negatively impact the development of trust between parents and teens, and the ability for teens to develop self-control over their technology use. However she did concede that some of the rules in the contract would be useful in preventing the harmful use of social media. In summing up, Amelia said that while social media is not “the safest place on earth”, it is already ingrained into society, and teens risk missing out if they don’t have a social media presence. She also added that social media can be helpful if used in the right way, but it is also up to parents to provide guidance. 

An alternative viewpoint was expressed by Maddie Williment, a self-professed non-user of social media, who said that nothing is perfect, and social media is no exception. Based on her research, Maddie said that while social media unfortunately does provide a platform for negativity and harm, it can also be used productively as a tool for people to connect with each other in a positive way. 

Similarly, Thomas Fern put forward a positive view on social media, despite – or perhaps because – he has had limited exposure to social media, using YouTube to access a number of educational channels, and Facebook (with his brother James) to promote their musical duo, Fern Brothers Music. Thomas said that social media can also help users to “be educated, promoted, interconnected, identified” and is a platform that allows people to “explore and be creative”. 

Seth Thornton provided parents with an overview of four popular social media, messaging and content sharing platforms – Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and Snapchat – and how these are typically used by teens, for good and bad. He concluded by saying that social media can be helpful, but users need to exercise caution and common sense, and to be aware of what they are sharing or messages that they are sending and again, emphasizing that parents also have a role to play in educating their kids about safe use of social media. 

Max Grayson and Brendan Yates listed a few of the potential harmful uses of social media, such as the ability for it to be addictive, cyber-bullying, and the sharing of content which perhaps should not be shared. But they also pointed out some benefits of social media, such as enabling people to more easily maintain friendships even when they are in different countries. 

Overall, the talks were well-received by parents, and the students are to be commended for the work they put into researching and presenting on this topic.

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