When I was young, I watched a Canadian show about a teenager who ended up with superpowers after being exposed to radiation. It was called “My Secret Identity” and the theme song contained the lyrics “You’ll never guess my secret identity!” Sometimes that’s how I think it feels to be slogging through the digital waters and trying to maintain positive personal, professional, and digital identities.
People often portray or post only the most amazing or positive portions of their life and there are all sorts of filters and enhancements done to photographs that people can often appear unrecognizable IRL (in real life). This doesn’t give a true reflection of what they’re actually doing, saying, feeling, or even how they look on a daily basis. Sometimes the people that seem to have it all are the people who are actually suffering the most. They are putting on a mask for the world to see and are suffering in silence. This was the case with my brother in law who lost his battle with bi-polar disorder, depression, and alcoholism. He lived his life in the public eye and in so doing, he created a positive persona of someone who could do it all… but behind closed doors he suffered an incredible amount of pain. It’s hard enough to navigate our lives sometimes without the added pressure of being perfect that social media seems to require of us.
One of the people I follow on social media is a young woman who grew up where I’m from. I met her when she was in high school and came into my work for help in obtaining summer employment (I was a youth human resources worker). Determined and ambitious, she soon had work and I didn’t see her again until years later when she became a fitness coach and I began seeing her posts through mutual friends. What intrigued me about her posts is that she didn’t sugarcoat anything. She was brutally honest. She was also documenting in great detail the difficulties she and her husband were having in trying to start a family. This included sharing the absolute heartache of losing multiple pregnancies. As a mother, I could relate to her pain. As a teacher, I could understand the need to empower others through education and sharing her stories. But part of me also worried that she was sharing too much information with the entire world and could be hurt as a result. Though I am thankful that her stories and her journey are helpful to others, it also makes me wonder how much is too much information to share online and through social media?
I often feel that people share too much information when I am scrolling through social media sites and sometimes I get overwhelmed with all of it. I love that I can keep in touch with family and friends that live far away. I love that I can share what is happening with my kids, my pets, my students… but sometimes I feel that the pressure to keep up with everything gets to be too much. I plan “digital vacations” regularly. I feel it is necessary in order for me to recharge and rejuvenate. Even trying to keep up with blogging, tweeting, and reading for my EC&I grad class is taking its toll, especially for one such as myself who is not as digitally savvy as most. I try to share and interact as much as I can, but I struggle to use the technology and the apps … so I often end up frustrated. However, I do think that it is the most beneficial class that I’ve taken with regards to how I want my career to evolve, so I am making a concerted effort to stay grounded, choose my interactions wisely, and learn as much as I am able.
Being a teacher means that we are never “off duty” or out of the public eye. It means that we are forever under the microscope, so to speak. What educators do online can affect them personally and professionally. Rightfully so. We do have an obligation to be positive role models for our students and be upstanding citizens of our global community. But do we not have a right to just be humans? Teacher Ashley Payne from Georgia was fired from her job for having alcohol while on vacation and posting photos of it to her social media site even though she was of legal drinking age (read more on her story HERE). Another teacher, Carol Thebarge, was fired for befriending students on Facebook – a practice which went against school policy. Thebarge had been working in the district for 30 years and claimed that she just wanted to be available to support her students after school hours (read more on this story HERE). So where should the line be drawn? Keeping students safe and protecting teachers should be priorities… but sometimes the policies seem just plain silly.
Though I am thankful that my kids have such awesome opportunities with technology that weren’t available when I was young, I am also fearful of what it means for their personal identity development, online and off. More and more of my students are anxious and suffering with forms of depression. My youngest daughter also has been experiencing issues and we have found that time spent on social media (though we closely monitor and control what she is allowed to use) is taking a toll on her mental health. And it doesn’t end there. Some students have had awful things happen as a result of online posts. Online bullying is rampant in our school community and is difficult to control. With almost every cellular device being equipped with a camera, other issues are happening as well. A student in my Media Studies 20 class in 2013 told us about an incident that happened to him. He was at a party and was photographed with an alcoholic beverage in his hand by another student. The photographer proceeded to upload the picture to his Facebook page and wrote a caption naming everyone in the photograph, unbeknownst to my student. My student got a call a few days later from a hockey scout who had seen the photograph after doing a search for my student’s name. Long story short – the team that had been scouting my student retracted their offer based on the photograph appearing on Facebook because it showed him engaged in behaviour that was against their policies (underage drinking). It is alarming how social media is shaping and changing the lives of students.
We need to remember to THINK and to teach our children and students to THINK!
THINK before you post!