October 9, 2019

What does your social media profile say about you? Our kids are watching.

Not only do adults need to be fluent in the language of social media, they need to be a model for 'good digital citizenship.'

David Street mentors young people using the language they understand: social media. Photo by P.E.N. DMV

Since 2017, I have transformed mentorship program at my nonprofit PEN DMV. We now focus on interactive programming using the language and engagement that our young people are practicing “almost constantly,” according to a recent survey from the PEW Research Center. The language and engagement I’m referring to is found in the ever-expanding universe of social media. Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat are just a few platforms that young people are spending huge amounts of time on. We have an opportunity to highlight the intersectionality of social media with concepts such as leadership, decision making, conflict resolution, advocacy, and workforce development.

Having worked with hundreds of students throughout Washington D.C. and New York City—and through partnerships with Facebook and the Harlem Children’s Zone—I have identified two key reasons that highlight why we need to invest in programs that preach the gospel of “good digital citizenship.”

Reason 1: Young people don’t understand how powerful social media really is.

Through multiple surveys taken by our participants, we have found that many of them think of social media as simply an entertainment or news hub. They have limited knowledge that their posts can have an impact on their future.

Young people are looking at you! They are looking at your profiles to see if you are practicing what you preach.

For example, most of them have no clue what law enforcement can and can’t do when it comes to content they have created and posted. Our young people are in the dark with how colleges and employers are checking the social media platforms of perspective students and employees. There are so many real-life issues that relate to social media: sexual harassment, cyber bullying, branding, ethics, career development, etc. All of these topics provide a lens for mentors and teachers to highlight leadership and decision-making skills in new and innovative ways.

Reason 2: Social media is the language of youth.

In any relationship, communication is one of the most important ingredients needed for the relationship to thrive. Our young people need role models who they can aspire to be like. I challenge all of our volunteers to have social media profiles that speak the same language and practices we want our young people to pursue. When a young person goes onto my profile and sees me living out my purpose, that visual, that language, screams so much louder than any lecture we could ever give.

Young people are looking at you! They are looking at your profiles to see if you are practicing what you preach. We need to be fluent in the language of social media. We need to be fluent in setting a positive standard.

David Street

David Street


David Street is the Deputy Director of Grassroots Organizing & Engagement for Bread for the World in Washington, D.C. Outside of his work for Bread for the World, Street is the Executive Director for P.E.N. DMV (Promote Enrich Nurture) a local non-profit that teaches young men leadership skills through a social media lens and context. Please visit www.pendmv.org for more information.
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