The Worst Approach to Teaching Students About Social Media

George Couros
4 min readJun 20, 2017

Years ago, I had a real turning point in my thinking regarding social media use with students while listening to a group of students share some stories with me.

One boy from the group, who was probably about thirteen years old at the time, was sharing a story about posting a selfie of himself online. As soon as he posted it, a few of his friends started making fun of him. Not in a “bullying” way, but joking around as friends often do. He was talking back and forth with them and they were having some good laughs. Eventually, his mom commented on the picture and said something to the effect of, “My boy is so handsome!”

He immediately pulled the picture down.

When he explained why, he said, “I would rather be teased by my friends than complimented by my mom online.”

As soon as he said that, I thought about one time when I was a kid and my mom said in front of a group of my friends about how handsome I looked. Immediately after she left, they started saying, “Hey George! Your mom thinks you’re hot!” This joke only lasted about six months.

“Hey George…I know things didn’t work out in that relationship but at least your mom thinks you are hot.”

I understood this boy 100%.

It was an eye-opening conversation, which also reminded me about the importance of having conversations with students regarding social media, not simply telling them what they can and can’t do.

I told this story the other day to a group of educators, and it reminded me of this picture.

Kid catches fish with toy fishing rod

I’ve blogged about this picture before, not only because of the image but because of the top comment:

Good work Dad, support without interference.

This is what is so hard about social media in education. If you are too intrusive, kids will block you out (could be literally or figuratively), or they will move somewhere else. Any social media that is the “new thing” isn’t something that we need to somehow work into our classroom. We often take away the appeal of social media by just making it about what the adults want, not what the kids want to use.

Yet, we do need to understand it. We need to understand that what students do on social media today can impact them in either a positive or negative way later on in life. I encourage parents to always sign up their own children to get onto social media younger so you can guide them. Would you rather your child make a mistake online at 8 years old or 15?

AJ Juliani wrote this great post, “Why We Let Our Six Year-Old Use Snapchat”, and talked about how “teachable moments” are crucial with social media:

Snapchat is also a great app for teachable moments with your kids. A few months back, our daughter had the iPad and was snapping some video of her brother acting goofy. It was harmless until she made a comment that was making fun of him and put him down. When we got the Snap on our phones it was the right time to sit down and talk about how she was treating her brother and what that would feel like if she was the one who was being made fun of in a video.

We often talk about “empathy” as teachers and parents. This situation was a quick reminder that we can build empathy through social interactions online and in person. We talked about the ramifications of this type of online action where it there could be way more than just her family who could potentially see the video. It could have been the moment we got rid of Snapchat, but it turned into a great lesson for all of us — parents included — to go through together.

…If we don’t allow our kids to use apps and platforms in a safe setting, make time for teachable moments, and support their learning and growth as online citizens, then it’s going to be tough to have these conversations as they get older. We are hoping that the chats we have now with our daughter will help later on when something new has come along and we don’t have as much oversight as we do now.

Adults need to get in so they can be a part of the conversation, without necessarily taking it over. As a parent and educator, we will sometimes overstep and sometimes we will miss an opportunity to support. That is why both roles are so complex.

With social media, there are lots of complexities and each child is unique and will need different supports, but I know that the worst approach to teaching children about proper social media use is ignoring it completely.

“In education, our learning not only not



George Couros

Innovative Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Consultant. I also like dogs.