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What We Can Learn About Leading Students from Instagram

Angela is in the sixth grade. Her parents have chosen to not purchase a smart phone for her yet, because they see the anxiety social media platforms cause Angela’s peers. When my teammate Andrew McPeak asked her if she wishes she had a phone, her response was insightful.  She said, “No. I wish my friends didn’t have phones.”

The fact is, social media platforms have turned into a popularity contest.

What originally began an innocent platform to post pictures of a significant event or relationship has now become a competition to stage a scenario that appears to be amazing or heartwarming, just to get “likes.” Other platforms do the same thing, begging users to post content for:

  •  “views”
  •  “shares”
  •  “retweets”

Did you hear what Instagram is doing about this?

Instagram is Considering Removing “Likes”

This past week, Instagram announced at Facebook’s F8 developer conference that they are experimenting with a new feature that removes exact “like” counts from posts. Instead of a numerical count, a user will be notified that some users “and others” liked the post and leave it at that. Short and simple. Very general.

Why is this important?

First, a user’s life can become about appearances rather than reality. I know too many middle and high school students who are more concerned with how they look instead of who they really are. Instagram’s decision may cut our preoccupation with image.

Second, it slows down the popularity contest obsession. Teens have always been into seeking who is most popular, so that reality won’t completely disappear. But this can level the playing field a bit, pushing students back toward authentic communication.

Third, since current social media scorecards measure the responses a post gets, they foster artificial stories; filtered photos; exaggerations or distortions. Many young users have additional account personas called “finstas” (fake Instagram accounts). This may slow down.

Journalist Karissa Bell writes, “Though ‘like’ counts may seem like a relatively minor feature, it’s one that’s become emblematic of the social pressures often surrounding Instagram. Younger users in particular can feel pressure to get a certain amount of likes, and sometimes delete posts if they don’t get enough. De-emphasizing like counts could reduce potential bullying or make people feel better about their feed.”

How Does This Inform Our Leadership?

Let me offer some tips on what we can learn from Instagram’s decision. Like this platform, we can be intentional about our leadership of students when it comes to social media:

1.  Help students develop a sense of identity outside of social media.

Several teens in our recent focus groups reported that they draw their primary sense of identity from their social media accounts. This sets them up to ride an emotional roller coaster. Why not work with your students to create purpose statements for their life that focus on doing something meaningful? Then, social media can be a servant not a master. The more time students spend offline, the more balanced they tend to be, both socially and emotionally. Teach them to find a need and fill it. Teach them to serve and in the process, discover their talents and abilities. When kids finally spend hours away from their phones they soon feel how liberating it is. Social media is supposed to “enhance our lives” not “enslave our lives.”

2. Take steps to enhance your students’ wellbeing.

Instagram is demonstrating a growing focus on features meant to enhance users’ “wellbeing.” In fact, the company has launched anti-bullying elements and tools to monitor your screen time. Coaches and parents can join them in providing guidelines or guardrails for social media use by minors:

  • No Phone Zones. Why not give clear guidance on when phones can be used for educational, meaningful exchanges or research and when they cannot, such as lunch time in the cafeteria or meal time at home. Also, what if 9:00 pm is the time everyone turns their phones in to re-charge them and enjoy time offline.
  • Equal Time Equations. Why not teach students the unintended consequences of smartphones (i.e. anxiety and depression) and help them spend an equal amount of time in face-to-face interactions as they have on a screen. We tried to ensure our kids had equal hours in quiet and with people as they did online.

3. Offer students a different kind of report card.

For too many young adults, Instagram is their sole, unilateral scorecard for how important they are. The more followers and “likes” they get, the better they feel about themselves. Both Instagram and I say it’s time for a new report card. Students need to “live their life” not just “post their life.” Posting can be both superficial and meaningful depending on our motive. Pause and consider this fact: we all have chosen something to measure how we feel about ourselves. It could be our performance. Our friendships. Our faith. You name it. Why not work with your students to choose to measure themselves with something that cannot be taken away by someone else. Popularity is a very bad scorecard. Purpose is a very good scorecard. Help them to be conscious about how they evaluate their life and satisfaction. Suggest they consider items like:

  1. Positively contributing to a cause or a community.
  2. Belonging to a group or family.
  3. Taking a stand for their values and convictions.

I think you and Instagram together can make a great team to help your students.


New Habitudes Course:
Social & Emotional Learning

Our Habitudes for Social & Emotional Learning curriculum uses memorable imagery, real-life stories and practical experiences to teach timeless skills in a way that is relevant to students today. Students are constantly using images to communicate via emojis, Instagram, and Snapchat. Why not utilize their favorite language to bridge the gap between learning and real-life application?

Habitudes for Social & Emotional Learning helps middle and high school students:

  • Develop habits of self-discipline and initiative
  • Implement time management skills to do what really counts
  • Plan for personal growth outside the classroom
  • Identify their unique strengths and passions for a healthy self-image
  • And many more social and emotional skills

Click on the link below today to learn more about Habitudes for Social & Emotional Learning!

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3 Comments

  1. […] post What We Can Learn About Leading Students from Instagram appeared first on Growing […]

    • Matt on May 14, 2019 at 10:39 am

      As part of our leadership group today I decided to discuss this article with the students (middle school). Some interesting perspectives learned.
      1. Half the group did not have an Instagram account and one girl shared that she had gotten rid of hers for the very reason the article discussed.
      2. When the topic of “finstas” came up some of the students commented on how they had them last year but now did not. The most ironic thing learned was that these ‘finsta” accounts were shared with less people than their regular account. When asked why, they said that they tended to post things on these accounts that were them being silly and not all picture perfect. So I then said “So these finsta accounts were the actual you.” That’s when the light bulb went off for them and they realized how “fake” their real accounts were and that these “finsta” accounts were only shared with people they trusted (ie real friends).

      This led to a time of them writing down who they wanted to be as a person and then what holds them back from being a leader. We then looked at the two questions and talked about all the things that keep them from stepping out to be a leader and how it actually also keeps them from being the person they want to be as well. We then tied in the discipline bridge picture from Habitudes and how it takes discipline to overcome these things that keep them from being a leader and in reality who they want to be as a person.

  2. […] How should some recent experiments and changes on Instagram inform our leadership? Read the blog post from Tim Elmore here. […]

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What We Can Learn About Leading Students from Instagram