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The Top 5 Things I Learned From Training Youth About Social Media & Technology

This month, I had the pleasure of spending some time with the Walters S.M.I.L.E. (Students Making Important Life Efforts) Coalition. They participated in a training developed by myself and LaDonna Coy called “Using Social Media for Good.” This training includes creating a social media policy, creating a social media plan, and learning how to develop products that amplify the success of a coalition’s social media presence. Thanks to amazing technology resources at Walters High School, each student was equipped with an iPad loaded with several photo and video apps, which really optimized this hands-on training.

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I could go into the details of the training, but instead, I’d like to take the time to focus on a few of the things I learned from them, specifically the differences between training adults and youth. Cue up the band, Paul Shaffer, because here we go…

The Top 5 Things I Learned From Training Youth About Social Media & Technology

1. Youth exhibit little negativity when it comes to using technology.

How many of you have ever attended a training or a meeting that the moment that social media is mentioned, someone begins poo-poo’ing the idea of it? I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard “I don’t have time for social media,” or “I don’t get Twitter, and I don’t really care to,” or “What’s wrong with meeting face-to-face?” My answers to those statements would be: “Yes you do,” and “Then prepare to be obsolete,” and “Nothing. That’s why we use both.” Adults, especially those who might not have grown up in the digital age, will many times joke about social media or passive-aggressively insult it because, face it, the idea of social media is scary if you don’t know what’s out there. It’s BIG! It’s far-reaching! It’s impossible to control! *now cue screaming people running through the streets apocolyptic style* But here’s the great part, curmudgeons. We want you here. We welcome you with open arms! Millennials understand the power of social media, and they want their bosses on board with the idea of allowing them to utilize these tools to the fullest potential. A couple of years ago, we began to see the rise of older adults using social media, and this statistic will grow as Baby Boomers increasingly embrace technology. Instead of grumbling about “kids these days, with their texting and their tweeting and their cell phones,” let’s allow them to show us where we can and should go.

2. Youth do not fear gadgets.

As I mentioned, during “Using Social Media for Good,” we used iPads exclusively to take notes, capture pictures/video, and create products for the training. I provided no paper handouts of any kind. The agenda, presentation, and evaluation were all electronic-based, and I didn’t hear a single word of negative feedback. This is not to say that every artifact from the training ended up on the iPad. We used the whiteboard for harvesting ideas and some students jotted ideas in their own notebooks. Because we conducted a skills evaluation prior to the training, I know that not all of them were familiar with the iPad or the specific apps we used, yet I heard no grinching about technology or about the programs. Like the old fish-to-water analogy, they jumped right in, and each of them created a product by the end of the day. This isn’t to say that adults always complain about these things, but there usually seems to be one or two in a room who do. I think we have a lot to learn from kids when it comes to learning new things–mainly to dive in feet first and see what happens.

3. Youth approach technology and social media with an enthusiasm and sense of optimism that only they can feel.

 Face it, most of us adults are reluctant to change–be it our systems, our professions, or even our coffee creamer. It’s part of the “Been there. Done that. Bought the t-shirt.” mentality. I admit that in the past, I was a “stand back and let some others try it, and if it doesn’t implode, then I’ll do it” kind of person. More often than not, youth haven’t bought the t-shirt yet, so they’re a little more willing to give things a go. It also doesn’t hurt that the internet has been in existence since before they were born, so it’s not a big, scary, abstract plane to them.

4. Youth do not see social media as an additional task but as something to integrate into their work.

I preach this concept CONSTANTLY. I’ve thought about tattooing it on my right arm so it’s the first thing that people see when we shake hands. Unfortunately, I’m philosophically opposed to word tattoos, so instead, you’ll have to hear it incessantly on my blog and in trainings I conduct. It’s a concept called different things by different trainers. Beth Kanter calls it going after small victories. Chris Brogan calls it “small bites.” Rhonda Ramsey Molina (one of my most favorite CADCA trainers ever) calls it “Big A, little a.” But whatever you call it, all it boils down to is that it’s a tiny step within a larger goal. You may not have the time or resources right now to sit down and develop a far-reaching social media plan. However, you can promote an event on Facebook. You can tweet a link to an article about the event. You can take 15 minutes to write a blog post about it (which will help with evaluation in the long run, for the record). You can create some quick infosnaps about your cause to spread your message faster and more effectively through any social media venue that you choose. The kids I worked with didn’t stray from their goals of promoting healthy lifestyles, addressing bullying, or increasing youth leadership. They saw this training as a way to enhance the tasks associated with those goals. So once again I will say, “Social media is not an additional task but something to integrate into everyday work.”

5. Youth do not consider bureaucracy, deadlines, or “worst case scenario” when learning about social media.

None of the points I’ve made today are meant to be negative or positive to any one group of people. They are mere observations about the process. However, this last point more than any of the others exemplifies why youth need adults on their side when considering and practicing these concepts. In a sense, this lack of bureaucratic thinking made it a joy to train them because there wasn’t a single “doom and gloom” prediction. Conversely, because this part of reality is not at the forefront of their everyday lives, they need guidance and assistance to make sure rules are followed, timelines are established, and potential setbacks are considered. With the optimism and enthusiasm mentioned earlier comes a vulnerability that might have the potential to create difficult situations. This is an area where I see how much we can learn from each other–youth learning to set boundaries and adults learning how to stretch those boundaries every now and again.

This list is by no means meant to be an absolute for all adult or youth trainings. It’s merely my single experience in a single point in time with a single group of (AMAZING) kids. Because I’ve trained both youth and adults on and off over the past decade, I knew these differences existed. However, seeing the specific differences when it comes to social media and technology taught me valuable lessons that I think we all could learn from.

I’d like to leave you with a few questions to ponder (and hopefully comment on!) as you reflect on your own experiences:

  • What are the differences you notice when training youth vs. training adults?
  • What are the similarities?
  • What do you think we can learn from each other and what do you think that would result in?

And until next time, here’s a little GenX geek humor for you…

InternetYourAge

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