Episode 38: Helping Our Kids Navigate Social Media Safely with Laura Tierney






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Brief summary of show:


Do you worry about what your kids are doing online? How do you let them be on social media without wondering if they’re being responsible?

As parents, we worry so much about our kids, and always try and do what we can to make sure they continue to grow into great human beings.


In this episode, we’re talking all about our kids and social media. I talk about this with expert Laura Tierney, who is the Founder and CEO of The Social Institute, which empowers students and their role models to navigate social media and technology in positive, high-character ways.

Within two years, her team’s unique gamified social media curriculum, co-created with over 50,000 students, has been touted as the gold standard in the country. Their positive, student-led approach has been applauded by Melinda Gates on Twitter and featured by The Washington Post, NPR, and USA Today.


Listen in as we talk about:

  • Why it's our responsibility as parents to reframe the conversation around technology with our kids

  • The gift of highlighting the positive side of social media

  • The Seven Standards The Social Institute teaches kids about using social media

  • Which platforms your kids are hanging out on based on their age

  • Two ways parents can change the narrative of social media in their households


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Resources mentioned in the episode:

Connect with Laura


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Podcast Highlights:


[00:02:20] How to use technology for good instead of finding the negative side

[00:03:56] How The Social Institute helps kids learn about social media


[00:06:00] The Social Institute's Seven Standards


[00:14:21] The platforms our kids are hanging out on based on their age


[00:15:43] Tips for parents to help create positive change with their kids around social media



Click for Full Transcript of this episode

[00:00:00] Natalie: It's a bold new world with social media and technology. Is it good or is it a big problem? Can we use social media in a positive character building? [00:00:39] Natalie: Hi, everyone. It's hard to ignore social media and it's hard to get by without technology. [00:00:44] I'm actually someone who loves technology. I always have kind of a geek like that. I like to try out new things sometimes even before they're popular, I've always loved cameras and computers. In fact, I think that's why I got involved with journalism. I love the visual medium of storytelling. We all know that social media today though has some bad. [00:01:05] But also some good qualities. So how do we navigate that? And when it comes to our kids, how do we teach it? My guest today is the expert. In fact, she is a marketing and media expert, and now works to help students use social media and technology in a positive high character way. Laura tyranny is the founder and CEO of the social Institute. [00:01:28] And I'm excited for you to learn from her today. So here we go. Laura joining me now to talk all about tech and Laura, I've always been a techie. think that that's kind of been fun as a young person and it's changed though, from when I was a young person, it feels like year to year. There's just so much more to learn. [00:01:46] Laura: That's what's so exciting about this space is that one month, Tik TOK is trending and then four months later something new comes out in this space. [00:01:55] So I love it. keeps us, parents on our toes, as well as the kids too, so ever, ever changing for sure. [00:02:03] Natalie: So as it's changing and as parents, and I know you have two young ones, but you also work with older kids. How do we navigate that? Like what do we do to be sure that, how we use it for something good instead of the negative side, which often gets more of the. [00:02:20] Laura: Sure. you said it, I think when you think about what we see in the media, or even often how adults approach this topic with kids, they'll often lead with. [00:02:31] You know, here's how it's going to destroy your reputation. Don't do this. Don't do that. I remember one student saying it's so well, she's like Laura, everyone just tells us what not to do when it comes to social media and tech, no one tells us what to do. And I think we have this opportunity to. Reframe the narrative as, as parents, instead of just focusing on how much this can destroy our lives and her, our ability to focus and what it could do to, uh, reputation, flip the script and focus on how it can actually do. [00:03:05] Help a child be healthier, happier, and more successful. Uh, I got three out of my four jobs, things to social media. I'm from a small town where I was able to follow role models on social media that I wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise. And so if we can relate. Highlight the positives and not forget about the negatives, but highlight the positives. [00:03:27] I think it's a gift that could last a lifetime, for students because it is so woven into a child's life today, whether or not they own a phone or whether or not they use social media, tech still has such. an influence on, on them. [00:03:42] Natalie: So being able to, and tell me more about your company. [00:03:45] You came out of the media world and started this company and your focus is using social media for something better. Right? Tell me more. [00:03:56] Laura: That's right. It's I feel like my it's my life's work and the purpose. I think that spark in me was, it came alive well before I started my work in media, uh, when I was 13 years old, I got. [00:04:09] First phone and it's nothing like the one I have today, but it did connect me with all my friends, with those like 10 sent text messages that we all remember. And yeah, like any typical teenager, I ran up the phone bill with texting my friends and, and I remember. You know, the adults in my life, some teachers and all as social media started to come out in my teenage years, they were just talking about how negative it was and how it's going to destroy our generation. [00:04:38] And as a student, you kind of roll your eyes and you're like, all right, you don't know what you're talking about. You don't even use the apps and platforms that I'm using. And then over time, like working in media, I got to see the power, you know, for good that I think when good messages can. Get between the five inches between our ears, how, how powerful that could be. [00:04:59] And so I thought, there's no one out there that. Really teaching students in a very relevant, cutting edge way, how to make positive high character choices. What if I could build something and work with students, to design everything that we do to make sure it passes their snicker test. [00:05:18] Cause we all know the snicker test is high for teenagers when it comes to. Social media. And so that was the inspiration behind it. Like, like most entrepreneurs, I feel like I, I live the problem that I wanted to solve in the world and it has taken off in a way, like I couldn't have imagined. And now the social Institute. [00:05:38] We support schools, you know, and families across the country. And I can envision so much more for the organization and the next, you know, in the years to come. So [00:05:50] Natalie: with the social Institute, do you go into schools? Do you work with individuals? And, tell me what you teach them. given me some examples of what you're able to help. [00:06:00] Laura: Sure. So, years ago I started this work by going into schools and giving speeches to students. we eventually worked with a few schools to build a interactive curriculum, and we worked with students to help design a lot of our game of five. Lessons. And so most schools will run our lessons, you know, during homeroom or advisory or health class. [00:06:23] And what we teach students, in those lessons is the same thing that we tell parents at home to remind your child about. There are seven standards that make up the program. I'm all about. the idea that as adults, and students, like we can all live up to high standards when it comes to our actions online. [00:06:44] And the seven standards that we created with students, are one play to your core and make decisions online that represent your core values and your character, no different than decisions you would. In person. My second is protect your privacy, kind of like you're famous and the same way celebrities lock down certain personal information that you can't find about them. [00:07:08] online or offline, have that same bar in your life and really control the controllable. Don't let someone else control your. Information for you. Uh, three is striking a balance and striking balance controlling our time and attention on technology with the people around us, other lessons, focus on, let's see cyber backing, which is the straight opposite of cyber bullying. [00:07:32] It's all about having each other's backs, and supporting others online rather than bringing them down with hurtful comments. and then the others, including. you know, using your mic for good and using technology like a microphone to make the world a better place and, surrounding yourself with positive influencers. [00:07:52] Uh, and that includes the content you consume the news articles that you surround yourself with. Um, making sure they're credible and they're vetted. And then last but not least is handling the pressure because as we know. there's so much pressure that comes with social media, the pressure to get the newest app, the pressure to get the latest phone, the pressure to respond right away. [00:08:13] As soon as that text comes in from your BFF. And if we could empower and equip students to. Navigate that pressure, in a thoughtful way. I think that is the ticket to again, making healthy high character choices day in and day out. did you see, I'm curious, Natalie. and as, as a parent to have three, did you see the, Facebook, files that came out recently and the research that came out on Instagram about like the pressure that's on, especially young girls. [00:08:46] And so my heart has always been like helping students navigate social media, but particularly like I have a soft spot for girls and what this world can do, To how we think. And so that's, uh, that's a quick snapshot, I guess, of the, of the lessons and some of the standards that we challenge students to live up to. [00:09:06] Um, wow. [00:09:07] Natalie: I'm so impressed. And each one of those, you said seven standards, right? I was very impressed that you rattled them off as quickly as again, I know it's your business, but how each one of them could be. A podcast or a story on its own. I mean, they're each almost like you said, relating it to life. [00:09:24] They're each different little avenues we have to work on in life. And now we look at social media being another form of that and how we, how we navigate that. I find it really interesting though, because in the news world, which I spent 28 years in. Anonymity is not a good thing. Like we very rarely would allow someone to be an anonymous interview. [00:09:46] I mean, it had to be like very special circumstances. This is, if you're going to hide behind something, then you're being protected for a reason. But on social media, Anybody can make an account put up a picture, make up a name and say bad things. And, so, you know, that's what I've have found so dangerous, especially for young girls is what people say about them. [00:10:07] Matter so much in the world. I have a young, especially a girl. I remember middle school teacher. I'm actually a middle school principal of one of my girls saying, and it stuck with me. It's still to this datas that, middle school kids live with blinders and those blinders, all they care about at that age and parents, you know, what I'm talking about is what are people saying about me? [00:10:29] What do people think about me? What do I look like? Like it's just this weird couple of years where unfortunately we can't change it. I'd like to change it. That's what it is. And so you put that then into social media and it can change everything for them. And that's about the age where they're allowed to do it. [00:10:48] Usually some, for some parents, they allow them younger, but it's that age where they're trying to figure everything out hormones and body's growing and all of that. And then you add in social media. [00:10:59] Laura: Right. the ultimate challenge too, is like, it's not going away anytime soon. It's not right. [00:11:06] As much as some parents would want to wish it away. And so I think it's, again, it's like we got to meet the kids on their level and, Learn more about the apps that they're using a wonderful strategy I found so successful is, and we use it at the social Institute is like invite your child or students to coach up and teach you. [00:11:26] And you sort of you, because we don't know at all, like the students are, the kids are really on the cutting edge of the newest apps and more. That there's no better way to learn something sometimes and to have to teach it and encourage your child to like coach you on what tools can you enable in your device to help you better balance technology and not have our eyes. [00:11:48] Downley they know a lot of features that you could use in cool apps that you could use. So that's a cool tactic. We've taken. [00:11:56] Natalie: Yeah, you're right. Like what we want to do is just say, sorry, you can't have that. And for a lot of parents, they do, you're not going to have a phone or you're not going to have social media, but eventually it's like anything else in life they're going to dive in. [00:12:06] Once they have freedom with, you know, food or alcohol or anything like that, and it might not be so good. So I, I remember a parenting expert. I interview a lot of parenting experts telling me the best way to teach is the three-step process of. Model it first. So if you're, if you're cooking show how to cook, then do it with them and then allow them to do it on their own. [00:12:30] And I love that. That works for me with this too. I, my second daughter, when she wanted an Instagram account so badly, I said, we'll do it together for a year. And we did everything she posted or anytime she got on it, we did it together. It was a lot of work for me, but I felt. She had watched me do it and then I did it with her and now she's really responsible with it. [00:12:50] so I, it sounds like that's kind of what you do too, is modeling it and then going alongside. Kids and doing it [00:12:58] Laura: absolutely 100%. I mean, and I love that simple rule of three, sequence. I believe so much that, there's that famous quote of like, we can't be what we can't see. And so if, if your child can't see you. [00:13:14] Making positive choices around technology and social media, how can we possibly expect them to do it themselves? And so it all starts with, role modeling and then fast forward to, I love the idea of having shared accounts, especially with like younger, uh, students to learn that learn the ropes of Instagram and even how you could disable comments like in the early days of you using it. [00:13:37] And if you don't. Everyone that to be able to comment under a post and then by step three, Like loosening restrictions, but then continuing to huddle with them, like huddle about what they enjoy following on Instagram and just those conversations. I find like build trust so that if the going does get tough and they're, they're in a tricky situation. [00:14:01] you have that trust set up with them and they know you're on their side, to this world of technology and social media. Yeah. [00:14:09] Natalie: So I'm hearing Instagram a lot. I know from my kids, that's a hot spot, but Tik TOK, obviously, growing in a different way, are those the two platforms you talk about? [00:14:21] Laura: we survey students across the country and, it's been really interesting finding out like the differences in go-to apps, amongst the different groups. [00:14:31] So, pulling like straight from our survey results, which now we've surveyed over 10,000 students across the country. it's interesting. So for. elementary, like four through fifth grade. YouTube of course is at the top for their favorite go-to apps followed by like video straining and then texting middle schools like sixth through eighth grade, it changes up just a little bit. [00:14:54] YouTube is still in that top slot, but then tick talk followed by gaming and then with. High school nine through 12, Tik TOK takes the lead, followed by Snapchat, followed by Instagram and then, YouTube. And so you see definitely more with like high school, the, like, those are all social platforms. [00:15:16] Um, even texting is social in nature. Right. but Tik TOK definitely comes in, you know, in the middle school and definitely in the high school. Yeah. Yeah. [00:15:26] Natalie: What's the biggest problem you see, like as a parent, if, parents are listening to this and like, we talked about a lot of things, but what's the biggest problem that you see that we really need to be focusing on as parents where we can step in and watch. [00:15:41] Is there one thing in particular or a few. [00:15:43] Laura: Well, one problem that parents can immediately address, like tonight is that mindset shift of reframing. How you talk about social media and technology with your family in a more, in a more positive way in a, in a team oriented way where you're living up to the same standards that you also have for your children when it comes to. [00:16:06] I's up or maybe charging your devices in a common space. I strongly recommend to parents to have. Social standards for your family. So talking like sitting down and with your child or children talking together about the standards you have, when do you use technology? When do you put technology away? [00:16:26] Where do your devices charge at night? And we have an agreement that's on our website. It's the family social standards agreement. And it's, um, two pages of all different questions that. Talk about and customize as a family around technology. So that's a cool tool that you could easily immediately, you know, put to use. [00:16:46] And then I think the much bigger problem and opportunity in society is that parents are going at this sometimes alone. Like they, are talking to their children about positive choices that they should be making. And that is great, but it would be even more wonderful if children can learn about these positive choices in a more social setting. [00:17:10] So there's more positive peer influence. I'm a big believer that school. Should be required to provide this education. more and more schools are putting devices in students' hands and that's great, like access to computers, access to laptops, access to tablets, but it's almost like we're giving them the keys to the car without them going through driver's ed. [00:17:34] Yes. So the more that we could proactively partner with schools as parents to provide that education is so powerful. And I think again, can make sure that the parents and the schools are on the same page and reinforcing what the students are learning in the classroom. Yeah. [00:17:50] Natalie: It's adapting our curriculum. [00:17:52] to today's world. I mean, I used to think of it with my kids of, I'm not going to just throw my kid into the jungle with the lions and not teach them like, this is a whole new world and we can't avoid it. We can't avoid it. They're going to face it. They're going to have it. They're going to need it in college, you know, and beyond. [00:18:11] For whatever jobs they, they go for, or there are so many good ways. And I love, love how your company is looking at the positive and making that shift because that's life. We have to make that shift. I talk a lot about mindset and you have to make that shift that you're going to do so for good. Um, I love it. [00:18:29] Where can people find more? I want to link, what you just mentioned in our show notes. So people can go straight to those recommendations, but where can people also get more information? [00:18:37] Laura: We have a lot of free resources on our website, the social institute.com. And you better believe we're on social media. [00:18:45] We're at the social inst ins T I'm on LinkedIn, on Facebook, on Twitter. And so you could definitely reach out there too. If you have any questions for our team. We're constantly sharing, like the newest apps that we hear about from kids and how do they navigate them positively. So we'd love to, sync [00:19:03] Natalie: up is your social media and your website geared more towards parents in how to guide kids? [00:19:08] Or should I have my teenagers following? [00:19:11] Laura: Oh, that's a great question. So on Instagram, I worked in social media strategy a lot, and you see the difference in who you talk to and where, so on Instagram, we share a lot of content for students and making positive choices. Um, since we find the majority are on Instagram, especially like middle school and high school and parents and educators can, check out our website where we have a lot of. [00:19:36] Blog posts and tools that you could download for the classroom or for your home, like the standards agreement and [00:19:42] Natalie: great. Well, I already follow you on Instagram and find you everywhere else. I think w we fill our minds with things that are important and doing this and helping for something greater is so important. [00:19:54] Laura, thank you so much. I appreciate your time and let's connect again soon. I think we have a lot of things in common and making a goodness in the world come to. [00:20:03] Laura: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.














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