Social Media and Your Middle Schooler: They Need the Village

Meredith deChabert, Middle School Principal

We all know that the digital landscape changes rapidly. Many apps and platforms that are in use today did not exist two years ago, and some that have stood the test of time have "upgraded" their functions to keep pace with what's new. Middle schoolers are some of the youngest users of social media, and their forays into various online communities can be a way for them to participate in and navigate their peer groups, develop a unique voice, be creative, and explore the world – all good things that are normal and important to this stage of socioemotional development.

Alongside these positives, however, can come some real difficulties for young users of social media: peer group drama, hyper-connection and FOMO (fear of missing out), cyberbullying, and various other types of harassment and inappropriate communication – all of which gets super-amplified in the young adolescent brain, and some of which can cross over into the realm of serious violations of school rules. It is Rye Country Day policy that our students must feel safe and respected at school so that they are available for learning. When student conflicts that stem from social media spill over into the school arena, the school will investigate and take appropriate corrective/disciplinary action.

Middle schoolers are especially vulnerable to social media shenanigans and need the adults in their lives – their village – to help them navigate the choppy waters of early social media use until they can steer safely on their own. Your middle schoolers might think that they have it all figured out, but they need you to help them with boundaries. What makes a healthy relationship? When does he or she need to take a time-out from the phone, tablet, or computer? Mistakes happen, so who are the adults that they can rely on to help them navigate a problem and get out of a tough spot? These topics are all explored in SEEK classes throughout the middle school years, but they make great fodder for family discussions, as well.

We continue to be huge fans of the website Common Sense Media, which "empowers parents, teachers, and policymakers by providing unbiased information, trusted advice, and innovative tools to help them harness the power of media and technology as a positive force in all kids' lives." The website offers incredibly helpful and reader-friendly reviews and ratings of all kinds of media, including movies, video games and apps, television shows, websites, and books. The site also offers informational videos and articles on a variety of topics related to tweens and teens and their use of social media. Some of our recent favorites include the following:

The best and simplest way to ensure that your child is conducting him- or herself appropriately online is to supervise his or her activity. You also should consider making it a rule that your child must surrender his or her mobile device whenever you ask for it. Knowing that a parent's eyes are but a request away can help some youngsters make better decisions online. You also can link your child's social media to your own so that you can see what he or she is following, seeing, posting, and downloading.

Social media and being connected online is the social reality for the majority of our students, and their relationships are being constructed and defined via online platforms more and more. We need to help our young adolescents navigate these powerful and potentially productive tools appropriately so that their online communities are as safe and wholesome as those that are offline.