Andrew Zirschky, Ph.D. and Academic Director,
Center for Youth Ministry Training, will be at Randolph on Wednesday, April 6 for a parent presentation entitled, “Beyond the Screen: Understanding the Social Lives and Needs of Networked Youth.”
We have had a number of presentations on social media through the years, always with the hope of helping parents and teachers understand and guide appropriate use, and of building stronger digital citizenship among our students. So why this presentation? Back in the fall, a friend who is a local youth pastor told me about Andrew and his work. I was intrigued that Andrew focuses not on the media themselves (though he is certainly knowledgeable), but on the “why” of social media use.
Social media as we know it was developing as my daughter came through the middle and upper school years. MySpace launched in 2003, during her time in middle school, and is the earliest social media platform in which I recall her showing an interest. I tried to stay aware, to understand the attraction, and to make sure that she was knowledgeable about how to use social media wisely and safely. The phenomenon was a steam-roller for her generation, and by 2006 when Facebook became available to the general public, there was no turning back. By the time she graduated in 2009, not only was Facebook a “given” for most students, it was for many adults as well. It’s certainly a love/hate relationship for me. I love being able to reconnect with friends from high school, college, and even from earlier years when I lived in other places. I enjoy seeing the pictures of my friends’ children and keeping up with their news. As my daughter left for college, I loved having the opportunity to know and see her friends. I’ve worried a lot through the years as well, wondering how she would manage her time (or how I would manage my own time), deal with hurts, or if she would know what to share appropriately, and with whom. For the good and the bad, social media is a part of our lives, and I know that the nature of our face-to-face relationships has changed as a result.
Parents today have raised their children in a time when social media is a given. And as a result, relationships are different. As things continue to change and evolve, a world with a virtual reality is just that, a reality. So when my friend, the youth pastor, told me that he wanted to bring Andrew Zirschky to Huntsville, we were excited about the opportunity to partner. We share a common interest in supporting students and in helping them form meaningful and supportive relationships, and I look forward to hearing Andrew on Wednesday night at Randolph. I am grateful to Trinity UMC for allowing us to host him on our campus, and for sharing his message with the wider community. Through a quick call, and with a little reading, I’ve learned a bit more about Andrew’s work.
As someone who has always been interested in technology, Andrew was an early adopter of various social media. While engaged in a doctoral program at Princeton University, he had the opportunity to do research (which later became his dissertation) on misinterpretations of popular culture about social media. His work led him to look at what was being said to parents, teachers and others about social media that was not in line with the best understanding of adolescent development. Knowing that the nature of relationships is changing (for all of us, not just teenagers), he dug in to see what research actually tells us about what kids are seeking and how social media, while offering a wide number of relationships, does not offer the depth of relationships that students really seek.
Andrew’s work uses the latest ethnographic research on youth and digital media, and I look forward to hearing how it informs us on ways we can help students develop and maintain the healthy and meaningful relationships they need and desire. When our conversations can begin with people, and not with technology itself, we have the opportunity to make a positive and impactful difference. I look forward to hearing Andrew Zirschky’s message and invite parents, teachers and others who care deeply about young people to join us on April 6, 6:30-8 p.m. Due to the number of registrants for this event, it has been moved from the Lecture Hall to the auditorium of the Thurber Arts Center.