A few weeks ago I ran my last workshop of the year in Social Media/Body Image for a full year group of Year 9’s. As usual, I was happy to meet some bright individuals who too often suffer being underestimated by adults. During the workshop, I asked the students to complete interactive tasks, aiming to help them improve their self esteem/body image and to understand that social media can often be misleading and impacts not only their own self-esteem but the self-esteem of others.
I was happy that the workshops had been well received and as one of my follow up actions I asked them to concentrate on more authentic content online (an account which reflects who you really are instead of exclusively posting selfies). As usual, I asked the students to follow The Motivation Project’s Instagram and promised to ‘follow back’ so I have some level of engagement with them post workshop.
As you can imagine, I was pretty appalled to have my professional Instagram account followed by a few accounts which had usernames referring to sexual acts, including one with the accompanying bio of ‘Please help, my Uncle rapes me’. I was even more appalled to realise that these accounts belonged to 14 year old boys whom I had met merely hours beforehand, in a social media workshop. Ironic? The content they were posting was violent, racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic… you name it, I showed their accounts to a few adults and they were so shocked they couldn’t look. My head was in my hands. The accounts started posting on The Motivation Project’s posts with very obviously sarcastic comments (sadly, I wasn’t born yesterday).
So, what do I do? I see each group for around one hour, once a year. My intentions are always completely positive. I listen to teenagers and actively change the content of my workshops based on their feedback to make sure that they are relevant and educational but most of all, fun.
Despite desperately not wanting to report teenagers who I work hard to build trust with, I really had no choice but to report this behaviour to the school. At their young age, they represent their school and their parents in all they do. My main concern was that their bad choices as immature boys will later come back to bite them. There’s no such thing as ‘delete’ anymore; if an account is linked to your email address it’s plausible that potential Universities and even employers may be able to track their online footprint in years to come. Will they like what they see?
Of course, the school was shocked. I was thanked for reporting it as it was the only way for them to discover these things. Despite being told everything would be done to make sure the accounts were changed or closed, weeks later the accounts are all still active and commenting on my Instagram.
What’s the next move for me? I feel as though I have gone beyond my responsibilities as an outside authority to report the boys, and yet I’m mindful that I don’t want them participating on my own account any more. I’m left feeling powerless to take further action.
How does it feel to be a teacher when these situations arise? Where are the boundaries? Are you really allowed to intervene? What level are these situations escalated to? When do you have to (frustratingly) step aside? How much can adults really do to protect young people online? Unfortunately, these are questions I don’t have the answers to.
On my way home I thought to myself, “I wish the world would hurry up and change already”, a thought I’m sure many of you have shared over the past year. Am I defeated? Not at all. As I look forward to what 2017 has to offer, I am striking up more ideas than ever for the project which will help to prevent this event repeating itself. New year, fresh start!