In the ever evolving world of technology, teens may be in the best position to teach social media literacy to their younger peers. At least, that’s what educators at Western Germany’s Gesamtschule Borbeck high school believe and why they’ve instituted their Media Scouts program.
In a recently published article by the Associated Press, Chantal Hueben, an 18-year-old high school student from Essen, Germany explained how the fifth-graders she mentors don’t really understand the impact their social media messages can have on others. Hueben says she tries to focus her lessons on digital media manners, which include things like not posting anything private on the class chat, and reminding students they shouldn’t share photos of other people without their consent.
Media Scouts Put Teaching in Teen Hands
Founded in 2011, Medienscouts (Media Scouts) was first rolled out in North Rhine-Westphalia. There, older students were coached on how to teach their younger counterparts the nuances of social media applications like WhatsApp and Snapchat. Today, 766 German schools participate in teaching children as early as elementary school about how their digital actions can have real life consequences.
Sven Hulvershorn, part of the media authority agency that oversees Medienscounts, hopes someday the program will be established in every high school in the country.
Germany’s Medienscouts program was created in response to the growing number of kids with smartphones. Over two-thirds of German children have smartphones by the time they turn 11. Since many of these kids have parents who didn’t grow up using smartphones and social media at that age, Germany began looking for a way to give their youngest citizens a lay of the land, from people who’ve been there before.
The US Teaches Tech Differently
The Medienscouts approach differs from what US schools have been doing to help elementary and middle school-aged children cope with an increasingly digital lifestyle. Here, many schools are required to provide students with an education about appropriate online behavior, however these lessons are primarily taught by teachers who grew up without a digital childhood.
Liz Kolb, a professor of education technology at the University of Michigan, says the US approach to media literacy isn’t due to a lack of understanding about the need, but more about teachers here being unsure how to make these lessons fit into an already overloaded curriculum.
A Teacher’s Perspective
US teachers agree the method could benefit students, but deploying it is the tricky part. One teacher we spoke with said part of the problem with rolling out programs like the media scouts, is the need to focus on preparations for standardized testing. A. Baker, an American teacher, tells Parentology the focus on testing is so high, almost everything else takes a back seat. She goes on to say many peer mentoring opportunities have to be pushed to before, or after school hours, putting it out of reach for the kids who could benefit most from it.
Baker believes peer mentoring could work here in the US as long as it’s rolled out prior to middle school, when many kids have already picked up bad social media habits.