Conflict and Social Media

A colleague and myself had a disagreement yesterday.  It was nothing overly serious – we disagree on a teacher’s personal responsibility towards professional development.  It was fairly obvious once we started the discussion that she wasn’t actually interested in discussing our different viewpoints – she had opened the conversation to complain and hadn’t found the receptive ear she was hoping for.  When I didn’t provide the supportive ear, she abruptly packed up her things and left the staff room where we would typically have eaten lunch together.  Her arguments are ones I might discuss at a later date, but her reaction seemed a little over the top.  While I was slightly annoyed at our conversation as her attitude towards professional development irks me, it was nothing that a quick whine to a sympathetic friend and an annoyed rant to a supportive husband couldn’t cure.  I later found out however, that she made a rather passive-aggressive remark about me on Facebook.  While she didn’t use my name, it was clear her remark was directed at our early discussion.

While this kind of behaviour strikes me as immature and not worthy of a response, it got me thinking to how these kinds of actions can escalate what should have simply been a case of disagreeing.  In pre-social media days, my colleague would have likely had the same response to our discussion as myself – she would have complained to some sympathetic ears and that would have been the end of it.  While possibly rendering our daily interactions strained, and at most straining the relationships between our choice confidantes while the reality of taking valid professional discussion personally worked itself out in time, there is no real fallout to such a disagreement.  In fact, there is  arguably real benefit to being forced to wrestle with a point of view which is not your own in order to maintain a working relationship.

Introduce social media.  Now, anyone she is “friends” with has the opportunity to ask or read what her disgruntled post is saying.  A much larger circle or people can be introduced into the conflict and there is a distinct feeling of needing to pick a “side.”  The personal element to the disagreement is elevated as such a post is clearly personal as opposed to a reaction to the ideas.

Personal things aside, it really got me thinking as to how the nature of teenage conflicts must have changed. As an adult, I have the good sense not to enter into such a petty fight and know better than to take it seriously.  However, if I think of 15 year old me, I’m not sure I would have made the same judgement.  I certainly would not have been able to ignore the jab and would have been very bothered that a one-sided conversation was going on about me.   Are teenagers aware of their ability to cut others down with just a few poorly chosen words?  As an educator I’ve been made aware of “cyber-bullying” and the serious harassment that can occur over the internet, but what about the passive-aggressive comments?  or slanderous text messages that see far more eyes than they were originally intended for?  If adults can’t be relied upon to use their better judgement when sharing information via social media how are teenagers negotiating this constant exposure of their lives to others?

While I understand that teenagers are teenagers, and conflict is inevitable at this age I wonder if we’re doing an adequate job in helping them cope with these new elements of being a teenager.  While I have previously considered what the effects of being such a “plugged in” generation may have, it never occurred to me that it would change the nature of conflict itself.  Are our teenagers desensitized to the constant stream of unrequested critiques and criticisms they likely receive or are they struggling through more doubts and insecurities than we recognize?

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2 thoughts on “Conflict and Social Media

  1. Though I’m not an expert on our Code of Ethics, I’m fairly sure that expressing her thoughts about another colleague (you) on social media goes against our Code.

    I think she needs my “We come to school to learn!” lecture. This particular lecture, which focuses on how we treat one another, would set the tone for behaviour on social media. It’s behaviour on the playground transfered to the virtual world. However, students have to be smarter. They have to be able to see the people on the other side of the computer screen. I think that it’s important that we help them to develop a sense of empathy and integrity in order to behave in real and virtual society in a ‘helpful not harmful’ way.

    Though my students are just learning to read, more than half of them will have cell phones (texting) in 3 years and I would guess that a lot of them will have e-mail and social media accounts within 2 years. Maybe I should hold off on this reading thing and just work on behaviour!

  2. Back in my university days, a friend majoring in Women’s Studies and I offered workshops to middle years girls on assertiveness in order to combat passive aggression. In hind sight, it is easy to see that two days of talk and activities had no hope of combating such a pervasive attitude in our culture.

    Kids don’t bully because it’s natural. They bully because we teach them how with our own behaviours. When we act kindly to another adult’s face and then roll our eyes when they leave or are careless with our tone when we say things like, “That might be how so-and-so does things, but that’s not how I do things in my classroom.” Parents slag one another behind each other’s backs and get uppity about their values when challenged by their kids, using others as non-examples.

    We tell kids not to be mean, but never bother to teach them how to reconcile their personal desires with respecting others’ feelings. And in our culture of individualism and instant gratification, self-denial does not come easily. “Just be good.” So instead of being “good,” kids (and adults) seek a way to get what they want while still appearing “good” or at least giving themselves an out. Your colleague could feign ignorance if you approached her on the subject, “Oh, that was about something else.” It’s the equivalent of laughing at someone and then when they ask what the deal is, telling them you’re laughing at a joke you heard earlier that day and then refusing to repeat it because there was no joke.

    Selflessness, compassion, empathy– these are skills that need to be explicitly addressed, modeled, and practised day in and day out from a very young age. And I’m not talking about an Honesty Assembly on the second Tuesday of the month. I really believe that getting kids to work together on projects that highlight each individual’s strengths– to become interdependent– is the key.

    Gee, how clear things become while I am on parental leave…

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