Social media training for girls enters the classroom in Tasmania

Social Media

Nina Khoury with students

It is no secret the digital age brings with it as much risk as it does opportunity, and according to experts, this is all the more true for teenagers.

The potentially detrimental effects of its use have been well documented, ranging from low-self esteem and addiction, to a lack of sleep and productivity.

The concerns have prompted Hobart’s co-educational MacKillop College to bring in trainers.

Nina Khoury and Adriana Stefanatos are both in their early 20s, and they believe they’ve had the best of both worlds, having grown up during the digital age.

They are using their digital know-how to run a program in schools across the country, showing teenage girls how social media can be used to empower themselves, and to shape their futures.

“Their whole world is on social media, their ‘group chat’ is on Instagram messages, all their conversations happen through snapchat, it is really scary,” Ms Stefanatos said.

The pair want young women to use their time online to gain skills and inspiration, rather than just ‘likes’ and ‘followers’.

They developed their online networking business enidnetwork to encourage and educate girls about future pathways and employment opportunities.

“We know that we can reach girls through the channels they’re already utilising, so we can reach them through Instagram and Snapchat and we want to change the message,” Ms Khoury said.

A key part of the program explores the heavily filtered role of Instagram “influencers”, pseudo celebrity bloggers who normalise idyllic and often unobtainable lifestyles.

“It’s this creation that’s really not any semblance to the real world at all, but they’re comparing themselves to that,” Ms Stefanatos said

The program helps girls to identify personal strengths, build relationships and find “real life” role models.

Most of the MacKillop College girls in the program were born in 2003, which is the same year that MySpace was first developed. Facebook came just one year later.

“[Social media] wasn’t as serious in primary school, but now everyone has to have it or you’re not cool enough,” year eight student Mara Dalton said.

“It’s like an expectation,” added fellow student Ellie Foster.

Blurring of different lives ‘the main concern’: principal

Deputy principal Sue Howard said her main concern was the blurring of the line between her students’ online and offline lives.

“We have a new generation of young people that have to be connected 24/7,” she said.

After teaching for more than 30 years, Ms Howard said she had seen a complete change in the way students interact.

“I guess that’s what we’re working really hard against, to say ‘no, you’re valued for the person that you are’. That’s really important, not what you put on social media,” Ms Howard said.

She said as a “digital immigrant” she and fellow teachers are often following the “digital native” students’ lead, learning about new things like “streaks” on snapchat; a running tally that records daily interactions between two people.

“It’s kind of like if you have a high streak, it means you’re good friends with someone,” student Ellie explained.

Ms Howard said that exemplified the importance of social media in her students’ lives.

“It’s that connectedness, and wanting to have themselves liked, they want that instantaneous feedback, they want the likes to build up or the streaks to build up,” she said.