Photo by Jhaymesisviphotography on Flickr and used with Creative Common license.

Photo by Jhaymesisviphotography on Flickr and used with Creative Common license.

When people talk about teens and social media, most of the conversation is about “is social media good or bad for teens?”, “how to protect young people on social media” and other questions that are full of fear. Youth leadership groups and conferences are starting to talk about social media, but many of these conversations focus around “what not to do” – don’t bully on Facebook, don’t spread gossip on Twitter, don’t post embarrassing pictures on Instagram…

It’s time to for a new conversation.

The conversation started shifting with the Arab Spring.  That conversation is led by youth, and select adult, who view social media not as a threat to young people, but as a tool by which young leaders can connect more deeply with their world and global peers.  This new view of social media empowers youth to take ownership of their Twitter and Instagram accounts and use them in powerful and positive ways.

On example of this comes out of the terrible violence we’ve seen over the past weeks in Ukraine.  A recent New York Times article (In Manhattan, Children of Ukrainians Connect to Revolution) tells of a group of Ukrainian-American teens who followed the protests in their homeland, via Facebook and Istagram.  The teens then used their social media accounts to tell their friends about protesters in Ukraine – many of who were their aunts, uncles and cousin – who needed medical supplies.   Members of the Ukrainian-American Youth Association then collected supplies and donated them to local organizations for distribution.

These young people used social media as a tool to learn about the country their parents and grandparents grew up in.  They were then able to connect with the people of that country on a deeply personal level, through service.

Instead of teaching young people how not to use social media, let’s shift the conversation and empower teens to use it as a tool to connect with the vast world around us in meaningful and beneficial ways.  Because leadership isn’t about avoiding the negative, its about creating the positive.


Want to learn more about using social media as a tool for social good?  Join the Global Youth Village and we’ll discuss this and other topics during the Arts & Human Rights workshop.