The two faces of Snapchat for schools and parents

Published 30 May 2016

School principals have revealed that there are challenges in liaising with parents whose children have been involved in inappropriate social media activity, according to a pilot study by researchers at the University of New England.

Dr Jennifer Charteris and Dr Sue Gregory from the School of Education say cyber bullying and sScreen Shot 2016-05-30 at 10.18.18 AMexting is presenting issues for school principals.

“What our research is telling us is that principals are dealing with the outcomes of activities that have happened over a weekend and spilled into the school. They have had to deal with very sensitive material. Schools are concerned that these issues are being blown out of proportion in the media, which is making their job more difficult,” said Dr Charteris.

Two hundred school principals and teachers have so far been surveyed for the pilot study called “Cyber Security and Social Media: Securing students’ well-being”.

The research shows very different approaches to engage and control social media within schools.

“Some schools are very proactive, they believe it is important to promote digital citizenship and actively engage students to be responsible in their use of media. It isn’t seen as a problem. Other schools see that there isn’t a place for bringing mobile phones to school and take quite a punitive step towards the use of social media within school grounds.”

Dr Sue Gregory says the study is focused on the smartphone App, ‘Snapchat’.

“Unlike previous ways of messaging like Facebook, disappearing data apps like Snapchat have a self-destruct timer, enabling the sender to determine how long their message can be viewed before being automatically deleted. This creates an attention economy where children are immersed in images that require immediate focus.”

Dr Charteris and Dr Gregory say principals are confronted with very sensitive issues when dealing with parents when students have been inappropriately using social media.

“Parents can be quite shocked at the language used on these social media platforms. They often believe their child couldn’t possibly use that type of language. This can create tension between the school principal and parents.”

Police liaison officers are also being used to support and educate the students, and Dr Charteris said the topics of sexting and cyberbullying are particularly important issues being discussed.

“School principals say the ‘theatre’ of having a police officer, with a pistol on the hip and handcuffs, make the students take the issue more seriously. They are helping students understand the damage that inappropriate images and cyber bullying can have on individuals.”

The support of School Liaison Police officers has had a significant and positive impact on the students according to many of the principals.

The research has also highlighted the benefits of social media, such as sharing of good news stories, and creative media use. As one principal commented, “they are curating the images that form the backdrop of their lives”.

Creating images is a powerful way of appropriating and disseminating teen culture.

The study will be completed by 30 June 2016.

An ackowlegement of the team include: Dr Sue Gregory,  Dr Jennifer Charteris, Dr Yvonne Masters, A/ProfAmanda Kennedy, A/Prof Myfanwy Maple