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Using the Internet and Social Media to Enhance Social-Emotional Learning

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The news media is filled with horror stories about young people and the Internet, but what is often overlooked and not reported are the benefits that technology, the Internet, and Social media have in building and enhancing social-emotional skills.

Young people are doing what they have always done as part of their journey into adulthood, including socializing with peers, investigating the world, trying on identities and establishing independence, but now they are just doing so using the Internet and social media (Seeing Social Media More as Portal Than as Pitfall).

In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media issued a clinical report, “The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents and Families.” It began by emphasizing the benefits of social media for children and adolescents, including enhanced communication skills and opportunities for social connections.  (Seeing Social Media More as Portal Than as Pitfall)

Young people are using the Internet and research is showing that there can be benefits for social skills development and social emotional learning.

Engaging in various forms of social media is a routine activity that research has shown to benefit children and adolescents by enhancing communication, social connection, and even technical skills. Social media sites such as Facebook offer multiple daily opportunities for connecting with friends, classmates, and people with shared interests. (The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families)

Social media, at times, offers opportunities for the development of social emotional skills in ways that face-to-face may not.

Social media sites allow teens to accomplish online many of the tasks that are important to them offline: staying connected with friends and family, making new friends, sharing pictures, and exchanging ideas. Social media participation also can offer adolescents deeper benefits that extend into their view of self, community, and the world, including:

  1. opportunities for community engagement through raising money for charity and volunteering for local events, including political and philanthropic events;

  2. enhancement of individual and collective creativity through development and sharing of artistic and musical endeavors;

  3. growth of ideas from the creation of blogs, podcasts, videos, and gaming sites;

  4. expansion of one’s online connections through shared interests to include others from more diverse backgrounds (such communication is an important step for all adolescents and affords the opportunity for respect, tolerance, and increased discourse about personal and global issues); and

  5. fostering of one’s individual identity and unique social skills. (The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families)

The Internet and Social Media have the potential to leverage the playing field for those with special needs, not just academically but also social-emotionally.  Kyle , who has been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome, discusses how the social media benefited him in Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter help some with special needs and developmental disorders to better communicate:

“Two to three years ago and I wasn’t able to talk to people face to face. Like, this right now, I wouldn’t have been able to explain anything. I would have been all shy and weird looking, sort of.”  As a teenager, Kyle was introduced to the social network website MySpace, and then later, Facebook, and he credits both with helping him to be able to have friends and conversations today.”It’s basically just the fact that you don’t have to have a person staring back at you with what you’re saying. I try to share a lot of inspirational quotes,” he explains. “This one says ‘the best relationships tend to begin unexpectedly.’ I can vouch for that.”

The adults, who care and work with young people, have a unique opportunity to join and support them as they navigate through this journey.  What this translates into is using the Internet and social with intention and helping young people to also do so.  As Anne Collier notes in Literacy for a digital age: Transliteracy or what?,  social literacy is important in this age of Internet communication.

If we all grew up with social-emotional learning, we’d have greater academic success and social skills and a lot less bullying in schools and workplaces. And if we applied those emotion management and empathy skills to online spaces as much as offline ones, we’d probably witness a lot less cyberbullying and other forms of online aggression (not to mention “traditional” bullying). We’d also probably have much less of a problem with dis-inhibition, the lack of visual cues that display our reactions to one another that can make us forget that those are fellow human beings with feelings behind the text messages, comments, avatars, etc. through which we communicate in digital spaces.

A lot of talk, press, and focus in this era of learning is on common core standards and 21st century skills and literacies.  What is often neglected is the importance of building social emotional skills within the classroom.

The challenge of raising knowledgeable, responsible, and caring children is recognized by nearly everyone. Few realize, however, that each element of this challenge can be enhanced by thoughtful, sustained, and systematic attention to children’s social and emotional learning (SEL). Indeed, experience and research show that promoting social and emotional development in children is “the missing piece” in efforts to reach the array of goals associated wit h improving schooling in the United States. (The Need for Social Emotional Learning)

It’s not enough to simply fill students’ brains with facts. A successful education demands that their character be developed as well. That’s where social and emotional learning comes in. SEL is the process of helping students develop the skills to manage their emotions, resolve conflict nonviolently, and make responsible decisions.  Research shows that promoting social and emotional skills leads to reduced violence and aggression among children, higher academic achievement, and an improved ability to function in schools and in the workplace. Students who demonstrate respect for others and practice positive interactions, and whose respectful attitudes and productive communication skills are acknowledged and rewarded, are more likely to continue to demonstrate such behavior. Students who feel secure and respected can better apply themselves to learning. (Why Champion Social and Emotional Learning?)

I have written a series of blog posts that address social-emotional learning, how it can be influenced by technology, and how the Internet and Social media can be used to facilitate effective and positive social-emotional skills:

Additional posts relevant and related to the topic of technology and social emotional learning have been written by my colleague, Anne Collier:

I created a website of activities that use technology to enhance social-emotional learning.  Here is a list with brief descriptions of these activities:


Collier, A.  (2012). Literacy for a digital age: Transliteracy or what?  Retrieved from

Edwards, E. (2013).  Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter help some with special needs and developmental disorders to better communicate. Retrieved from

Edutopia Staff. (2008). Why Champion Social and Emotional Learning?: Because It Helps Students Build Character. Retrieved from

Elias, M. J., Zins, J. E., Weissberg, R. P., Frey,K. S., Greenberg, M. T.. Haynes, N. M., Kessler, R.,  Schwab-Stone, M. E., & Shriver, T.P. (1997).  The Need for Social Emotional Learning. ASCD. Retrieved from

Gerstein, J. Technology Enhanced Social-Emotional Activities.

Klass, P. (2012) Seeing Social Media More as Portal Than as Pitfall.

Shurgin O’Keeffe, G, and Clarke-Pearson, K. (2011).  The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families.

Creative Commons License
Using the Internet and Social Media to Enhance Social-Emotional Learning by Jackie Gerstein is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 25, 2013 at 1:21 am

One Response

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  1. Very interesting post; thanks for posting the link in Moodle. Robin Nappi


    March 3, 2013 at 10:22 pm

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