Two central Alberta motivational speakers are changing the perspective that social media is a negative influence.
In 2016, Joe Whitbread and Jo Phillips started talking to students about the way they use social media and to bridge the communication gap between children and parents.
For this, the two won a special award from Public Schools Alberta earlier this month.
The two have discovered that adults use Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and other platforms differently than children do.
The younger generation uses social media to connect with their peers, much like text messaging, they said in an interview.
Adults, on the other hand, use social media much like they would a journal, sharing their life experiences, achievements and everyday memories involving their families and children.
“We (adults) started publishing our lives on social media without an awareness of how it would impact them (children) in their own lives, said Jo Phillips, co-founder of Jo(e) Social Media Inc.
“So our kids go out in the world on a daily basis and have to make a decision about whether this stranger who knows something about their life knows that because they’re their mom’s Facebook friend, or is this somebody who is actually a stranger.
“So their lives have been completely exposed by their parents. They have no control over it and they’re not sure how to stop it,” she said, explaining this is one of the challenges children face every day, which sometimes affects their mental health.
Children are looking for guidance to navigate through the social media waves every day, but they’re not getting that from their parents, said Joe Whitbread, the other co-founder of Jo(e) Social Media Inc.
“For years, children have been told to go after their dreams, provided their dreams are athletics, singing, music.
“But if kids’ dreams are to be a YouTube celebrity, or to make arts and crafts off something they saw on Pinterest, we aren’t supporting their passions. And no eight- or 12-year-old, or 17-year-old should ever be told what they believe in or what they’re passionate about is stupid,” said Whitbread.
The business owners said children see social media as a valuable tool, but when they ask questions or look for guidance, they get shut down.
The Lacombe residents visit schools and speak with students as listening adults and guide them and answer questions.
So far, they’ve spoken to more than 22,000 children in central Alberta and beyond, as far as Calgary and Fort McMurray.
Once they’re invited to schools to conduct an assembly-style talk with students, the two also host a parent session, either the same evening or the following night, to talk to those students’ parents.
They invite both students and parents to the second session, but not very many turn up.
“Because parents are not invested in helping their kids with this,” Phillips said.
“Parents, they want to keep them off (social media), they want to ban it,” said Whitbread.
When the two go to schools, they answer questions from students such as, “I want to be a graphic designer, how do I use my Instagram to do that?”
The adults provide tools that would help the students in their career pursuit.
The impact is visible, so much so that teachers thank them for helping them with a subject that may be considered taboo at the dinner table in some families.