'Is there any point in schools using social media?'

Schools should leave it to children to be the creators of their own online footprint, writes Tom Starkey

Tom Starkey

social media internet safety children

I don’t post recognisable pictures of my children on social media. I don’t use their names. I don’t put anything out there that will be mortifyingly embarrassing for them in later life (as much as I would love to). Instead, I’m keeping prints of the absolute awkwardest moments to get out when future prospective partners come around for their first visit. Cannot wait for that. Dad’s revenge.

One of the reasons for not posting pictures – along with the usual concerns around e-safety – is that I feel a person’s digital footprint should be their own. It’s not for me to push my kids out into the wilds of the web before they’re good and ready, and understand what it all means.

Call me a techno hippy or some such, but I think it’s important that everyone shapes their own digital presence rather than act as a bit-part in someone else’s.

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A degree of separation

When the time comes, they’re more than welcome to dive headlong into the Instasnapping and the Booking of the Face (or follow their dad’s footsteps by posting what they think are amusing one-liners about whiteboard markers that make people want to die). But for now, I’m happy to give them a degree of separation until they can make an informed choice for themselves.

This has meant a little bit of extra effort on our part when it comes to ensuring that The Boy and Baby Herc – not their actual names, obvs – don’t get accidentally caught up in the net of the internet. Because the schools where they learn, like so many others up and down the country, post images to social media.

As is often the case, my much better half came up with a question that made me stop, think and then steal for this article (sorry Caz, I’ve done it again): what exactly are the benefits? And having thought about it for a little while, I’m not 100 per cent sure if there are any.

Of course, there’s the old chestnut of community/stakeholder/parent engagement, but – and I’m more than happy to be corrected if I’m wrong – I’ve not visited a school where the reach of their social media channels is more than minimal. Self-formed parent groups usually get more hits.

Cons outweigh the pros

What advantages does the school gain? Apart from supposed engagement, I’m a bit stuck to think of any.

I could list the disadvantages with no worries: the time it takes to manage an account, often by a teacher, meaning extra workload; the inevitable difficulties regarding safeguarding; the exclusion of children from a digital presentation of their school community if they’ve got weird techno-hippy parents like me; open feedback channels that allow who-knows-who to say god-knows-what; the normalisation of idealistic digital presentation that sets the pattern into later life; and, for me one of the issues at the very heart of it, whether a child can really give informed consent over their own image and where that image goes.

It’s great seeing the kids doing their thing in schools, but my worry is about the uncritical adoption of social media use that doesn’t give anything back to the kids, and, in many ways, just turns them into another way to gain clicks. I want more than that for them.

Tom Starkey is an education writer and consultant

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