Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Middle School Students' Social Media Use

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Middle School Students' Social Media Use

Article excerpt

Introduction

As students are increasingly engaged in technology and cyber learning at very young ages, there is a heightened concern for their safety. Cyber bullying, impact of digital footprints, and inappropriate use of social media are topics that are gaining attention. As more schools and school districts are implementing 1-1 and "bring your own technology" initiatives (Dunleavy, Dexter, & Heinecke, 2007; Lowther, Ross, & Morrison, 2003) attention to these topics is critical to the welfare of our students. The literature on social media use among teenagers points to benefits as well as risks for this population. On one hand, social media use provides great opportunities for connecting with others, creating and being part of online communities that foster creativity, knowledge and civic participation. For example, Facebook allows students to connect outside the classroom and collaborate on assignments and projects, thus creating more opportunities for learning. Through social media, youth can find out about volunteering opportunities and local political events (O'Keefe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011).

On the other hand, social media use presents several societal risks for middle school and high school students. Many have expressed concerns that this use may have negative impacts on various areas of teenage life. This was supported by a study that indicated that Internet use as little as three hours per week could lead to depression and social isolation in teenagers (Kraut, Patterson, Lundmark, Kiesler, Mukopadhyay & Scherlis, 1998). However, a recent study conducted with 130 7th-graders from a middle class public school in California on Internet use revealed that overall Internet usage had no significant correlation with psychological adjustment. Interestingly, this study found that teenagers who scored higher on social anxiety and loneliness measures were more likely to communicate via instant messaging with acquaintances. Even teenagers who felt well supported and connected to their peers at school sought out additional opportunities to interact with people they did not know well but very few close friendships were actually developed online (Gross, Juvonen & Gable, 2002). This raised questions about whether or not this makes anxious and lonely adolescents more vulnerable to online predators.

To investigate this issue, Dowell, Burgess and Cavanaugh (2009), surveyed 404 middle school students on their engagement in online risky behaviors. 31% of the sample reported posting personal information on social networking sites, including a picture of themselves. Twenty two percent of boys (compared to 6% of girls) reported having searched the topic of sex on the Internet and roughly, 40% of both boys and girls reported having encountered sexually inappropriate material on the Internet. Approximately 28% of the participants reported being harassed or bullied on social media sites. Furthermore, the results of this study indicated that simply posting your picture on a social media site did not necessarily constitute a risky behavior. However, the clustering of various risky behaviors such as posting the name of school and email address, corresponding with unknown persons, initiating online sex and online harassment, and overriding Internet filters and blocks may place vulnerable youth at jeopardy (Dowell et al., 2009). However, others have argued that previous claims that social networking sites present a great risk of victimization, as in unwanted sexual harassment and solicitation, seem to be unfounded. Out of 1588 middle school students surveyed recently on this issue, 15% reported an unwanted sexual solicitation online (Ybarra & Mitchell, 2008).

A recent large national survey of 1588 middle school youth, ages 10-15, found that 32% had experienced online harassment, among which, 43% were via instant messaging (IM) in chatrooms and 28% via social networking sites (Ybarra & Mitchell, 2008). …

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