The Power of Social Media to Teach Kids Advocacy

Teens can use social media for good.

The Internet is an amazing thing. When we look at the impact it has on the social and emotional health of our kids, it’s easy to go negative—especially with some of the headlines out there—but if we take time to focus on the good, then they’re more likely to come to us when they need help with the bad.

One of the ways we can do that is by sharing stories with them about kids who are using the Internet to bring about big social change.

Project: Advocacy in Action

National Health Education Standard 8: Students will advocate for personal, family, and community health.

This is one of my favorite projects, as it has the students picking a topic they feel passionately about, finding an advocate or advocacy group that supports it, doing a little research, and then sharing their work with the class.

Advocacy in Action Worksheet 

Screen Shot 2014 12 17 at 3.41.52 PM 212x300 The Power of Social Media to Teach Kids Advocacy

(Click to view as a PDF)

Typically, I introduce this project by discussing an advocate that we’ve learned about in class. When we started doing it four years ago, it was mainly adults—Jamie Oliver, Michelle Obama—or groups like Above the Influence and SADD.

And then a couple of years ago, I started noticing a shift. The advocates we were hearing about in the news were getting younger and younger. There was Jeremiah Anthony, who used Twitter to stop cyberbullying in his school, and Julia Bluhm with her petition to get Photoshop out of Seventeen magazine. These were exciting examples of kids their age using social media to do big, big things.

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(via ChrisPetersonTCS/Twitter)

And in October of this year we learned about one that really struck a chord.

Twelve year-old McKenna Peterson was upset that there were no girls in the basketball catalogue for Dick’s Sporting Goods, so she wrote them a letter of complaint.

Then her father—a local sportscaster in Phoenix with a bit of a Twitter following—proudly posted it online. Other people took notice and the retweets and favorites soon followed. When the letter she got back was less than ideal, he tweeted out that one too. This led to more retweets, some media attention, and an apology from the CEO.

This story was as a great example of advocacy for the kids. Her letter was firm but polite, assertive, and she ended on a positive note. She had someone with more influence help her out, and followed up when she didn’t get results.

Here’s a link from Huff Post Teen to an article that has all of the letters and the tweets.

This story led to a great discussion in my class—not just about advocacy—but about goal setting, communication, gender equality, and so much more.

And then a few weeks ago, Dick’s released a new commercial… featuring a girl, a basketball, and a message for us all.

Seeing that video, made just two months after McKenna wrote her letter, taught my students some very valuable things.

Advocacy works, age is not a roadblock, and social media—when used for good—is an amazing and powerful gift.

So hopefully next week when they’re off for the holiday—with all of that time on their hands—they’ll think about McKenna, the letter, and the commercial, and be inspired to pick up their shiny new gadgets to share something awesome with the world.

Then they’ll set them down, grab their families, and go outside to play.