Quick-fire strategies: How Social Media Fuels Unkind Student Behaviour (And What To Do About It)

Quick-fire strategies: How Social Media Fuels Unkind Student Behaviour (And What To Do About It)

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Is social media wreaking havoc in your classroom?

Join us in this enlightening episode of the School Behaviour Secrets as we delve into the profound impact of empathy, unveil the hidden dangers associated with unkind messages and uncover innovative approaches to teaching empathy in the digital age.

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan  0:00  

Say something unkind to someone in the real world. And you see that reaction immediately your body and brain learn very, very quickly. Send an unkind message, you don't see the reaction for maybe a day or two. And the separation in time between those two events is so long, that your body and brain actually learn very little. So what can we as educators do, rather than pick up the pieces after these messages are sent? 

Hi there. My name is Simon Currigan. I've got another quick fire episode for you where I share an insight or strategy into classroom behaviour or children's social, emotional and mental health needs that can impact on the kids that you work with all wrapped up in a tasty 10 minute episode. And this week, we're going to look at how social media fuels unkind behaviour in our students because I know kids sending unpleasant, aggressive or disrespectful messages to each other is a massive cause of issues outside school, which they then bring into school. And then we have to deal with. When I say kids. I think this is a problem for many age groups right now, including adults, but we are where we are. 

So we're going to look at why these messages get sent in the first place and some strategies for handling it. So let's begin with the question. Why does so many kids and people send really mean or cruel messages on social media often messages that they wouldn't dream of sending in real life? I think we need to start by looking at what happens when you say something mean or cruel to a person in the real world when that you know standing right in front of you. And there are three things that come into play. The first is that you can see the reaction that your words have had on the other person, you can see their face change, and your limbic brain will immediately read the other person's emotions you'll be witnessing, both visually and emotionally, the impact of that bomb you just dropped. It's what your brain is hardwired to do. Because we're social animals. And if you say something deeply unpleasant to someone, you then know firsthand the damage those words have done. Because we're empathetic creatures, a part of us will actually experience that hurt or upset or shame that the other person is feeling we have mirror neurons whose job it is to scan the faces of other people and literally recreate the emotions that they're feeling in our bodies. So when we see someone who's upset, we feel that upset too. If they're in pain, we experience that emotional pain vicariously. So if you hurt someone emotionally, there's a part of you that actually experiences that emotional damage, the emotional consequences of your actions, all of which encourages us to think about the consequences of our words and actions for the other person, at least in the real world before we open our mouths, and those consequences,  they don't feel good to us. 

The second thing is if we're physically near the person, we are saying something cruel to the person we're provoking, there's a chance that we might also be in physical danger from their reaction, they might become enraged and attack us, or encourage their friends and allies to gang up and attack us. So we have to weigh that factor into consideration whenever we insult someone in the real world. And the third factor for me is when we say something in person in public, we know it's going to affect the opinion of anyone who's watching. In society as a rule, we actively tend not to like people who say cruel things, they tend to get shunned or excluded from social groups, and as social animals going back 10s of 1000s of years ago in evolutionary terms, we relied on the group for survival being excluded from the group meant you are less likely to get the food and nourishment you needed to survive and the shelter and the protection. And you know, even to this day, we still do. We need other people for social and emotional support. Look at what happened to people's mental health during the isolation of lockdown being excluded from the group. So we are programmed hard wired to care what other people think about us. 

Now think about what happens when a student sends an unpleasant text or DM or message, they are not there in person with the person receiving the message show, their amygdala never sees the person's reaction when they read that message. So it's less likely empathy is going to kick in as a deterrent, you're less likely to feel the emotional consequences of pressing send. They're not with the person they're messaging, they're probably in a building miles away. So they're physically safe, they're not in any physical danger. And sending a message on social media can feel like a private conversation that's hidden from the rest of the world. So they're less likely to consider what other people will think about the message. So the student hit send, and drops an emotional atom bomb. And you know, here's the final thing, the consequences of sending an unkind message arrive either the next day or days later. So they're not immediately linked to the original action. In our bodies, timescales, reinforcement, or deterrence has to occur almost immediately following an action, you touch the oven, you get a burnt finger, that has a meaningful impact on your body, your body immediately learns not to touch the hot oven. Say something unkind to someone in the real world, and you see that reaction immediately, your body and brain learn very, very quickly. Send an unkind message, we don't see the reaction for maybe a day or two. And the separation in time between those two events is so long, that your body and brain actually learn very little. 

So what can we as educators do, rather than pick up the pieces after these messages are sent? Well, we need to be actively teaching our students to imagine the other person's face and reaction when we send that message before we hit send, encourage the student to get into the routine of asking the question, if I send this text, what will be the result? What will be the damage? What will the other person feel inside them? And is that what I want? What will be the damage for the other person? And the consequence? For me? How would I feel if 10 of my friends read this message? Or my family read this message? How would this change their opinion of me? And also another important question to get them into the habit of asking is, Have I written anything in this message that could be misinterpreted? The two word message "you're mad" could be interpreted by the person getting that message in a number of different ways. Depending on the relationship between the two people the conversations they've been having previously, they might interpret it in a positive way or a negative way. If the child means you're mad, in the sense of you're funny and cool that it might be best for them to slap a happy face emoji at the end of that sentence. If there's a chance the person reading it might take it a negative way. 

And interestingly, if you see any emails I send out personal or professional, they're plastered in emojis, not because I have the emotional intelligence of a five year old though that is debatable, because I want to make sure the comments in my emails don't get misinterpreted by the person reading them. This is a rethinking and evolving how we teach empathy for the modern world. I mean, teaching empathy is nothing new. It's something we already do in schools. But it's about adapting this teaching into a new context and new media. Doing this systematically in schools will help our kids embed positive routines and habits, reduce unnecessary hurt and conflict and hopefully improve their use of social media for life. 

And that's my take on students sending unkind messages on social media. I hope you found it useful. If you haven't rated and reviewed us, then what are you waiting for? Open up your podcast app now and give us an honest rating and review. And that tells the algorithm gods to share school behaviour secrets with other teachers, school leaders and parents who would find this information useful or helpful. It's another quick fire episode next time have a brilliant week. I can't wait to see you on the next episode of school behaviour secrets

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)