Death by Comparisons

Comparisons are crippling and recently I have been in a few situations where either myself or another person was completely ignorant of the truth because the information gained from comparisons wasn’t accurate.

I have several friends who have decided to close their Facebook accounts because the constant stream of highlights from other peoples’ lives makes them feel inadequate. An article featured on Fast Company, “Want to be happier? Stop Comparing Yourself to What You See on Social Media,” makes the point that a different perspective is needed when viewing the success of others compared to your journey. You can set goals by “realize[ing] that the comparison is not about the person, but a tool to tell you what you want in life” and letting it be an inspiration.

For me professionally, I think this is great advice. When reading through other CoETaIL-ers blogs, instead of thinking what their doing that I’m not, I need to look at them as my community of colleagues who are little by little teaching me how to be a 21st century educator. Including myself as one of the ‘nodes’ in this community also means that I too have, and must, make contributions.

These hesitations of mine make me wonder if my students last year felt the same way when blogging and sharing our thoughts with other classrooms. At the time I felt that the pressure to present their best writing to ‘strangers’ created much needed accountability, however maybe I should have taken the time to dig a bit deeper into how they felt about the transparency of their thoughts. As I create and align the digital citizen course work this year, I am going to keep in mind the lessons around community and the reasons for blogging. If we can teach our youngest contributors that being a part of a digital network is about collaborating, learning and sharing with the community – maybe they won’t be as fearful to proudly write about the journey, no matter how far along, because there are lessons others could learn.

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A downside noted in the resource Social Networking and Peer Relationships is that the “use of social networking sites has been reported as leading to lower psychological well-being for some girls (Devine, & Lloyd, 2012).” Also noted is that “kids may compare themselves unfavorably to others when reviewing online profiles; (online profilers have been found to overly represent positive and under-represent negative aspects of their lives) (Qiu, Lin, Leung, & Tov, 2012).” These warnings emphasize the need to teach about social media, digital footprints, and network communities in school.

When researching tips to revise my digital citizenship units, in answer to the cautions above, I came across a post on Getting Smart. Amos Goldie listed these among his top 5 tips to Protecting Your Digital Footprint:

  • Periodically check whether the ONLINE “you” matches the REAL WORLD “you.” Like checking our real world appearance in the mirror every once in a while, it’s important to know how other people see and judge the online “you.” One of our assignments directs students to post “What three words come to mind when you see my online profile?” and then analyze the responses they collect. Often, students are surprised by the image they are putting out there. Be mindful of how you represent yourself.
  • Never compare your REAL life to other peoples so-called “perfect” ONLINE lives. We all put our best foot forward online – it’s human nature, and it’s called “curating” your identity. Unfortunately, when sensitive teenagers find their life doesn’t measure up to their peer’s shiny, happy “curated” lives, they can suffer social media-induced loneliness and depression. Don’t envy others’ seeming happiness – it’s often a mirage.

Most people consider their devices and social media for only social purposes, when surprisingly there is so much more to be gained by using them. Vicki Davis, in her post A Guidebook for Social Media in the Classroom, gives a tough love message about the necessity of teaching social media best practices to keep your students from damaging their digital footprints and reputations.

Between my own mixed emotions about sharing and learning, as well as the many resources I have read, I have come across an important element that I missed when previously teaching digital citizenship to my students. I focused so much on the positives of being a part of an online learning community, that I overlooked the emotional implications of that membership. It’s an important lesson in community and collaboration where some (myself included!) might have to adjust their ‘perspectacles‘ in order to consider themselves part of the learning community, flaws and all.

5 thoughts on “Death by Comparisons”

  1. Hi Randi, the points you made here resonated with me. I too read through other COETAILers’ blog posts with comparison in mind, even a degree of envy as I am not actually teaching this year (but miss it dearly!). I really like the idea of using this kind of comparison as a tool to help me figure out what I want to do, how I want to shape my future teaching (e .g. in my next classroom position) etc. Also, it is easier to leave out “people-comparisons” on COETAIL, where I only know a handful of participants in person anyway than, say, on Facebook! That being said, I have noticed an interesting trend evolving on my Facebook newsfeed since we arrived here in India over six months ago: Those Facebook and Instagram posts of mine where I show and/or describe a conventionally “attractive” experience (e.g. pretty rangoli patterns for Divali, a freshly-made cappuccino from the cafeteria of my sons’ school) attract the highest numbers of “likes” and comments, whereas my posts showing and/or describing the more negative aspects of life here (e.g. photos of my son and I wearing air-filter masks, eerily blue smog so thick that you cannot see the building across from our apartment) seem to attract far less attention. It’s as if we’ve all become so hooked on the rush of excitement and envy of what we perceive to be the superior experiences of others, that when confronted with information that indicates a friend could actually be having a much worse time of it then we are, we don’t quite know how to react any more…

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    1. Hi Nicola! You’ve made an interesting point about people not even knowing how to react to ‘negative’ posts. Honestly, I never bother anymore even trying because of the ammo it gives my friends and family who don’t agree with our choice to teach internationally or in the Middle East. It was easier with the ‘dislike’ button they used to have; I don’t take the time to comment when someone posts a pic of their sick kid, but I also don’t want to push ‘Like.’

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  2. Hi Randi,
    Thanks for sharing the perspectacles article. That made me smile. I agree that it is important to consider the emotional well-being of our students when we decide how to use social media in education.While social media is here to stay, it isn’t necessary to push children, including overly sensitive teenagers, into situations where they may not be mature enough to handle themselves appropriately or their emotional well-being. Still, being there to guide students in the virtual world provides them with support that will hopefully prevent them from damaging their virtual reputations’ (I really like this expression). Also, perhaps it is our responsibility, as teachers, to concomitantly foster a growth mindset and resilience to enable students to handle themselves online and process the resulting emotions. The other skills and understandings that we teach need to change as our interaction with technology changes.

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    1. Hi Leah! First – concomitantly – great word! And second, I like your point that fostering a growth mindset is important when learning new online community skills. It seems my first challenge is to test the teachers and parents growth mindset when it comes to all these skills and I am therefore in the process of creating an aligned K-12 digital citizenship and literacy curriculum for just that reason. Yikes – big task! I am re-motivated today after reading Ann Durham’s “Adjust or Go Home” post where she makes the case that international teachers are gutsy enough to try out different schools, countries, and communities – why not new technologies?!

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  3. Hi again Randi, You’re right – a growth mindset is exactly what we are looking for in teachers and parents. I really admire you for getting onto the task of a digital citizenship and literacy curriculum. I would love to see / give feedback on this at some point if you’re willing / able to share. I’m a bit of a curriculum geek. Are you considering a continuum by any chance? Tough to create but that developmental progress strikes me as a good combination. This discussion has also inspired me to share ideas about 1) growth mindset with teachers and parents and 2) linking this to tech integration.

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