Helping Students Find Their Way With a Moral Compass

Social Media is Ruining Childhood: Agree or Disagree? That is a pretty bold, black-and-white statement, and the topic of discussion for Week 5 of EC&I 830. Presenting their arguments first, the “Agree” team of Logan, Amy, and Carter declared that social media is forcing kids to mature too quickly, and that the negative problems associated with social media are amplified in kids because they have grown up in a culture where social media is ever-present. As a result, they are not capable of recognizing some of the warning signs because it is the reality they have always known. The group cited the suicide of Amanda Todd, and the Star Wars Kid as two high-profile examples of children negatively affected by social media. The group also highlighted the fact that communication between humans is based almost entirely on non-verbal cues (93%). Yet, social media is primarily text based. Because of this, the true meaning of what a person is trying to communicate is often lost in translation.

Ellen and Elizabeth, team “Disagree”, recognized that cyberbullying does take place in our virtual world, but the team argued that bullying is a societal problem and not a technology problem. They suggested that bullying behaviors account for only a fraction of the use (or misuse) and that people often focus on the negative aspects of social media. A number of resources provided by the group suggest children experience a number of benefits as a result of social media use. The 5 Reasons You Don’t Need to Worry About Kids and Social Media article lists the benefits as including: it strengthens friendships; it offers a sense of belonging; it provides genuine support; it helps kids express themselves; and it lets them do good. A similar article, 5 Reasons Why Social Media Might Actually be Good for Your Child, adds: it allows them to collaborate with schoolmates; enables them to discover new interests; prepares them for the future; and provides them with the opportunity to get creative. The author also passes along the following advice for parents looking to moderate and model the use of social media with their children: limit screen time; know what they are doing and why they want to do it; learn who they are friending; set limits for use to occur after schoolwork and chores, and be sure to spend quality time with them that does not include digital devices.

As noble as these reasons may be, I found myself stuck thinking about the negative effects social media has had on some children. In her compelling blog post, classmate Janelle Henderson recounts her experience growing up with cyberbullies. Janelle declares that despite parent’s wishes for children to experience the same type of childhood they had growing up, technology and the internet have the potential to ruin childhood. “A childhood from thirty years ago can look similar to today, however, our children are constantly bombarded by marketing, social media, internet apps, sites, etc. and are being exposed to more information and images than ever before.” However, as Janelle contends, the choice is whether the child chooses to engage in all of this exposure. Erin Benjamin contends that the anonymity of the internet allows people to post hurtful things about others without any foreseeable consequences, and that these negative comments are often reinforced by people choosing to piggyback on the negativity of others. I found a couple of the “Agree” side resources to be especially compelling. The article, Social Media Affects Child Mental Health references a study by YoungMinds which says that because children have become so used to the pressures of social media they don’t recognize the anxiety it is causing them. Because they are living their lives in such a public way, there is a constant need for reassurance from their online communities that what they are doing is valuable and worthwhile. The resource, Is social media sabotaging real communication? extends this notion by suggesting, with social media a person can hide their true self and project only what they want others to see. Without the benefit of nonverbal cues, their audience will believe them. The author also argues that social media amplifies relationships based on superficiality rather than more personable ones grounded in authenticity. The award winning short film, A Social Life, really drove these points home for me. If you have eight minutes, I highly recommend giving it a view.

During the class discussion, the topic of a Moral Compass was raised. The compass listed below by Mike Ribble helps to make decisions we may be faced with as digital citizens.

Source: Digital Citizenship Moral Compass Image Reference: 21st century compass from Mike Ribble
Source: Digital Citizenship Moral Compass Image Reference: 21st century compass from Mike Ribble

Our Moral Compass is divided into 8 different levels: Right; I don’t know; Wring; What’s the big deal?; As long as I don’t get caught; It’s an individual choice; Depends of the situation. A number of years ago Leanne Forrest and I created the lesson “Moral Compass – You Make the Call” with the intention of helping students identify ethical dilemmas they may face as part of social media use. This resource has since been updated by the Educational Technology team and is part of the digital citizenship resources databank for Regina Catholic Schools. I have included a link to the student handout which identifies a number of potential scenarios faced by the digital citizens of today. Feel free to take a look. In doing so, I think you will find, as I did with the debate topic this week, that not everything is black-and-white. As Mike Ribble identifies, there are six other levels which fit between right and wrong.



3 thoughts on “Helping Students Find Their Way With a Moral Compass

  1. Thanks for sharing the Moral Compass student handout, Dean. It is fantastic and I will definitely start utilizing it with my students.


  2. A very sobering read. Thank you for the insightful comments about helping develop a moral compass for students. It’s something that’s often overlooked due to political correctness, but still needs to be addressed.


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