Why Did I Start Educating About Social Media?

First, a little information about my background: I’ve been working with teens and tweens since the early ‘90s. I first started my career working direct care at an inpatient psychiatric hospital. There, I learned much about a wide range of mental illness and the resulting behaviors. I then worked in residential settings treating teens struggling with mental health, trauma and behavioral concerns. Within these facilities, there was very limited access to the internet and cell phones were not permitted. Even in their home and community, their access was limited. IM messaging was used on computers and texting on flip phones, but very few people were accessing the World Wide Web.

And then things changed. In 2010, I began working in Prevention Education. The role had me engaging with students in 6th to 12th grade. At this time, I also became the proud owner of a smartphone. This was the beginning of my passion for technology, social media and phone apps. I began to discover apps and downloaded everything from calendars to games to photo editing tools.

As I was exploring all the tools and tricks that existed on my new toy, I stumbled upon a post by a teen that was upsetting and concerning. The topic was one which I typically came across in the journals and sessions of teens I worked with in treatment. I looked deeper into similar posts via the use of hashtags (#) and began to see an underground world of mental health issues being shared on popular social media sites. I began exploring and researching content from various public postings and asked peers and friends if they were aware of this behavior. None were. How could this be?

This disturbing lack of public awareness led me to scour the Web and social media sites to learn more of the online community. The magnitude of the content and the way some teens were using that content was disturbing. Over the next three years, I researched and created trainings for parents, teachers, therapists and other adults involved with young people to help educate them about social media use and misuse. My mission was to make sure adults and kids knew both the good and the bad that existed and how it impacted them.

I was compelled to teach the young people I work with how to navigate the cyber world safely. You don’t just give a 16 year old a car and say “Here you go!” without giving them instruction and offering opportunities to practice to driving safely. With this in mind, I developed trainings for students in the schools I worked in about how to behave responsibly when they are connected online. In the process, I found that I learned from them about what was new or trending at the time and how social media impacts youth culture. The youth told me that they appreciated the tools I gave to make good decisions when connected to the cloud and that they don’t like it when adults “preached” to them. They wanted to know what to do if something happens online. As one student said, “Don’t talk to us like we are completely ignorant. Just give us options if something bad happens.”

Educating adults was an imperative part of the process because they can’t teach what they don’t know. They appreciated the trainings and learning about social media and youth culture. They wanted to know what their students/children are doing online, but they often didn’t have time or experience to research on their own.

As this journey continues, I have developed and modified trainings for professionals. I have expanded on my programs to responsibly educate youth and adults about social media, mental health and digital responsibility based upon best practice recommendations by prevention, mental health and technology expert guidelines.

I want to thank you for your interest in my journey and look forward to showing you how to Shape Your Sky.

~ Ryan