Thought Factory Podcast #402 || Digital Life Series: Students’ Social Currency

Students’ social status is a major part of their lives.  Their appearance, their branding, their amount of likes and re-tweets become the elements of a transaction in regards to their interaction with others.  Just like we place value on a currency, students place value on their social standing.  In an attempt to get students to understand and realize that they are greater than their likes, we blend science and research to the digital life of a student to help them navigate the technological world.

SEGMENT 1:  Research Data
(the first number is students, the second number is adults)

How has social media helped you the most? 
A. Keeps me connected to issues or interests I care about // 18% | 9%
B. Keeps me connected to people I know // 57% | 77%
C. Gives me a place to present my thoughts // 7% | 9%
D. Keeps me up to date with newsworthy events // 5% | 3%
E. I don’t have any social media accounts // 13% | 2%

Which area has social media’s effect on the world been most positive?
A. People are more connected than they’ve ever been // 27% | 43%
B. Social media gives people a creative outlet // 16% | 13%
C. Social media helps us see what is really going on in the world around us // 22% | 17%
D. Social media brings people together with common interests // 16% | 17%
E. Social media allows people to have more influence on the world more than ever before // 19% | 10%

Do you think hashtags have an influence on people?

After checking my social media, I tend to feel:
A. Happy // 68% | 23%
B. Sad // 6% | 5%
C. Guilty // 6% | 2%
D. Anxious // 11% | 33%
E. Afraid that I am not keeping up // 9% | 37%

We asked Chris McKenna, from Protect Young Eyes, why do you think students are responding with 68 percent happy?  He goes, ‘that’s the entire intent of social media, is to give you this boost of happiness, this good feeling.  That’s positive endorphins feeling where you check your social media you feel happy.  You finally release that negative aspect of whatever is going on in your body and the stress or whatever and you release it and you feel happy.  By looking at it, that would be what I would expect, is that immediate response is you feel happy.’

We asked the adult leaders to predict what their students would say and we tend to project our own experiences, our insecurities, our thoughts, many times our negativity.  So we asked the question, ‘could it be that the projection of our own experiences and what we hear in the media about the negativity really be influencing the students?’  Chris flipped it on us and he said he believes that they’re responding this way, saying that they’re happy when they check their social media because they’ve been programmed to feel that way.  Now that is fascinating!

It doesn’t negate the fact that they aren’t feeling anxious or aren’t feeling afraid that they’re not keeping up because they may within five minutes of checking social media, where they have that feeling come back but based on how we asked the question when you check your social media they are responding by saying, ‘yeah I get a happy feeling, it feels good!”

How does social media affect your life?
A. Very Positive // 10% | 7%
B. Somewhat Positive // 35% | 34%
C. Neither positive or negative // 42% | 34%
D. Somewhat negative // 10% | 24%
E. Very negative // 3% | 1%

Our research shows that students are overwhelmingly positive (2 to 1) about how they feel after being on social media.  Other research shows students don’t feel worse about themselves when they look at others’ posts on social media.  Could it be that (once again) we are projecting our own experiences and insecurities onto students or are they rewired, unlike adults? Or…are they responding in this way because they have been programmed to?

Consequently, many teens feel obligated to project an attractive and popular image through their social media postings.

  • 40% of teen social media users report feeling pressure to post only content that makes them look good to others.
  • 39% of teens on social media say they feel pressure to post content that will be popular and get lots of comments or likes.

That’s a lot of what social media is:  you put things out there and when you get the positive feedback, you just keep going back doing the same thing that got you the likes in the first place.

What motivates students to post content?  Likes, comments, personal preference, controversy, etc.  Without many realizing it, students are creating a “brand” with their social media accounts. You can speak into their life to help them decide on what brand they portray to their world.

We do not want to appear insignificant. In turn, the number of likes equates to the number of friends and people impressed by your picture, which equals public recognition that you have an interesting, active social life. But what would happen if we were not caught up in this game of social currency?

Questions to consider about branding:
But before you post something on your profile, just think: does this mean so much to me that I want to share it with friends and family? Or am I just posting this because it is 4 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon and I really want to break 300 likes?

Ask your students to have someone look back at the last several weeks/months and summarize the “message” that is being given through their social media feed… “ I look great in my clothes” “I travel a lot” “friends mean a lot to me” “I value (this sports team)” etc.

Questions to ask:
What are three adjectives to describe their account?
What is the one thing that would summarize their brand/message?
What does this person value the most?
Percentage of selfies?
What people/characters are the most prominent in the photos?
Describe the picture(s) that has the most likes.

Ask one of your students if they would post a picture of your mom on your social media account?


We wanted to continue our conversation with Chris in regards to the topic of social status and you have coined a phrase,  “you are greater than followers and likes.” 

“I want kids to know that there is an inherent worth and dignity to each and every one of them because they are a human being, that social media cannot touch unless they let it.  There’s a permission that has to be given to technology for it to get to me and to just give kids the realization a mile wide and an inch deep on a thousand followers on Instagram cannot compare to two friends who I can call at 2:00 a.m. when I’m in crisis.

There are scientific studies that have been done on primates to talk about the size of their circle of influence and neurologically what these primates were able to maintain in terms of relationships and it always came down to no more than five core individuals, in our case humans, not primates, that we can invest in fully.  There’s this other number where the circle of 150 that any greater than these certain numbers that have been scientifically proven that it’s meaningless.   We cannot maintain a relationship beyond some of these barriers.  We were created in relationship by a triune God for real human to human relationship.  Human skin releases endorphins when touched, through a hug or through some loving brush.  These are things you cannot experience screen to screen.  Things you can only experience face to face. 

The illustration that I use with kids is when you’re on your deathbed, I guarantee there are a few statements that will not come out of your mouth.  You will not say “oh if I had only maintained my Snapstreak for 25 more days or if that picture from Spring Break 2018 would have only received 50 more likes.”  You will care about who’s with you and what those real people meant to you so don’t give power to those things.” 

Talk to us a little bit about the difference between girls and boys when it comes to affirmation on social media.

God has wired them to have this desire in them to feel affirmed and desirable.  I think that’s programmed early on.  That’s a little different from boys.  Boys want to know that they’re capable. Girls want to know that they’re desirable, that they are noticed and significant by somebody else.  If that is my bent that I am constantly surveying the world around me to compare myself to the world, am I good enough?  Then social media is going to feed that bent in me sometimes with distorted answers.  It’s going to cause me as a young female to take picture after picture after picture I until I get the one that gets the number of likes that for a short period of time feeds that significance void inside of me.  It’s answering a question of their identity, their worth, and their desirability in a format that wasn’t designed to do so in a healthy way.  They’re more vulnerable because of those just inherent tendencies in the way that God created them.

Even Selena Gomez was quoted as she cannot stand the way she feels when she looks at her Instagram feed because it causes her to question who she is and her beauty and her identity.  You step back and go who does she have to compare herself to and yet just because of who she is as a young female, it causes those sort of discrepancies in her heart that she doesn’t know what to do with.”

Students are greater than the number of likes they receive.  Their identity is not found in the affirmation they’ll find online.  Ultimately, as we’ve been learning as even Facebook and other social media gurus and people in the industry have said we ultimately do not find our affirmation from the amount of feedback we’re receiving online.  Ultimately, it’s found in our relationship with Christ and our Creator.

That’s where the rubber meets the road with our guidance to students. We need to continually point them back to Christ and get them to realize that the number of likes, the number of followers, that’s secondary.

© 2018, Never The Same