Students and social media

young person looking at phone

It can feel like it’s impossible to keep up with the fast pace of young people's use of social media. Striking a balance between respecting their privacy and independence, while looking out for their safety and wellbeing, can be tricky. Here are some facts and tips to help you teach your students how to use social media safely.

What is social media?

Social media is any digital technology that allows people to share ideas, information and thoughts via online communities and networks. Social media provides students with multiple ways to connect virtually with others (family, friends/peers, teachers, members of interest groups, and even strangers).

The list of social media platforms used by students is growing steadily and is always changing. Some of the most popular platforms currently include:

  • Facebook

  • Instagram

  • Snapchat

  • TikTok

  • Omegle

  • Houseparty

The eSafety Commissioner can provide information on these apps, including the latest info on their security and terms of use.

Why do students use social media?

Young people have countless opportunities to engage with social media. It gives them an opportunity to engage virtually with the bigger world around them. Students will use social media in different ways, depending on their interests, communities, friends and family.

Some ways include:

  • to share small funny moments with friends via a meme or video

  • to engage in local and global activism, as seen in recent student-led, climate-related school strikes

  • to access content from articles and videos, or from events they may not be able to attend in person

  • to communicate and connect with family members

  • to follow popular culture, such as bands, fashion and sport

  • to organise a catch-up with friends.

Students’ access to social media

Most popular social media platforms are completely free. However, they may contain paid add-ons, as well as regular targeted advertising. The platforms are user-friendly, and while there are age restrictions for some (e.g. Facebook requires users to be at least 13), these terms of use are often unknown or ignored. If students have access to a suitable electronic device and an email address or phone number, these platforms are available at their fingertips. This ease of access makes it difficult to know exactly where your students are socialising online, as well as why and how they are using the various platforms. While some students may be excluded from using social media, either by bans from their parents or by limited access to technology, it’s still important that they understand its complexities and how to use it safely, as they are likely to engage with it in the future.

Online safety

The ease of creating, posting and sharing content creates equal opportunities for students to have both positive and negative experiences online. Young people can engage in as much or as little social media use as they like; but even with all the right information and the best intentions from parents, carers and educators, it can be tough to understand how some students are using social media without invading their privacy. While most teens will use social media safely and experience its benefits, some might make negative choices. For instance, they might use it to:

  • put down their peers

  • say things they may not feel comfortable saying to someone's face

  • unwittingly and/or insensitively share illicit or embarrassing images of other people without their consent.

These instances can have an impact on their friendships, and on their own and others’ wellbeing. This is why it’s important to engage students in an honest and open dialogue about their use of social media, and to be well informed as an educator in order to help students use social media safely.

What can I do now?

  • Check out our social media package for some great classroom resources for teaching students how to use social media safely.

  • The eSafety Commisioner site provides links to most relevant social media websites and detailed information on how they are used.

  • Use articles from our online behaviour and social media package to start a conversation with your colleagues about how best to prepare yourself for teaching safe use of social media in the classroom.