Teens develop opinions despite influence from parents, social media
In the year 2021, social media occupies the spotlight of our lives, and it is placed front and center in nearly every conversation. From the Covid-19 pandemic to Senate Bill 8, politically active members of the ESD community often take to social media to express their personal view. With the rise of parental engagement in politics via social media, students, thanks to the help of the school’s curriculum, continue to think for themselves rather than be swayed by the opinions of their parents.
Cambridge University Press published a study in Feb. of 2020 that found that parents had less influence on their child’s political belief than previously believed. In the same study, researchers also found that education had little effectiveness in transmitting political belief.
“[Researchers] find that the transmission of partisan orientations from parent to child occurs less than half the time, which is qualitatively different from the generally held view,” the study concluded. “Education, previously thought to have little role in transmission, does not influence a child’s ability to understand their parent’s affiliation, but appears to make children more likely to reject whatever they believe it to be.”
When it comes to a school’s curriculum, a study conducted by Indiana University titled the “American School in the Political Socialization Process,” reaffirmed the idea that a school’s curriculum has little influence on students’ political affiliation. Rather, it is the school activities and overall classroom climate of the school that most directly influence a child’s political affiliation. This study also found that social facets, which include a child’s social groups and after school activities, have the most influential role in deciding a child’s affiliation.
“The school curriculum is found to be effective in transmitting knowledge but not in influencing attitudes; social status of students influences these relationships,” the study found. “Classroom climate and student participation in school activities and the school organizational climate were main factors found related to student political attitudes.”
Since the social aspects of a child’s life seemingly decide their political affiliation, social media is a tool used in suading students’ political beliefs. With the school’s help, students are able to find reliable information from trusted sources. Students report being involved in politics via social media long before an anonymous parent-run political social media account was created.
“I began interacting and getting involved with politics during the height of the pandemic,” junior Sevy Smith said. “Before the pandemic, I had no interest in sharing political viewpoints because I was not of the belief that any of it mattered. Now after spending countless hours reading through articles and posts on social media that perpetuate dangerous ideals that can and have proved harmful to many, I realized, I just like everyone else, have a role in helping educate and stopping the spread of dangerous viewpoints.”
Social media plays an important role in disseminating information. Knowing this, parents in the school community with various political stances have begun to use social media as a means of influencing students in hopes of bridging the gap between student political ideology and parental political ideology. An anonymous ESD parent-run Instagram account hopes to inform community members and influence the political affiliations of students.
“Please let our children breathe, smile, interact, read facial expressions and learn the way they should,” wrote the account in a post that encouraged giving lower school students the right to unmask. “Give them the option to mask or not!”
Although seemingly the community has become increasingly polarized since the 2020 presidential election season, one thing remains constant: students have not been affected by the surrounding noise. Some students are vocal in their support or their protest of the account, but overall, students largely remain unswayed in their previously decided political stances. According to a poll of __ upper school students, ___ percent feel affected politically by parent-run social media accounts. The account, it seems, has made little progress in their agenda as many upper school students have remained staid in their beliefs. According to a poll of __ upper school students, ___ percent strongly identify with their political affiliation.
“I feel a responsibility to stand up and fight for marginalized groups of people,” senior James Wharton said. “This is the main reason why I decided to become engaged in politics. My beliefs are so entrenched in me that they have come to define me, to define my purpose. So no, an Instagram account run by various parents in the community is not going to change my political beliefs.”
Department chair for Religious and Historical studies, Mary Hansell, along with a team of administrators, work to ensure that students are given the tools they need to form their own opinions and think critically for themselves.
“In the history department we use Stanford’s Online Civil Reasoning [for examining sources],” Hansell said. “Another [resource] we use is the Stanford History Education Group where there’s all sorts of lessons for students where you look at a historical event and examine the source and see what was happening at the time, and you really look at both sides.”
Along with giving the students the online resources to better think critically, the history department also works to help students identify credible sources. This has helped students when using social media and be able to discern between reliable and fabricated information.
“When we look at sources, we want students to know who’s behind a certain website, who’s funding it, what other sources say about the issue… we give students a checklist of things to see if the information is credible,” Hansell said. “It’s really these types of lessons of understanding news versus opinions that we really need to help out students as digital citizens of the world.”
In the classroom, teachers incentivize students to get out into communities and decide for themselves which parties they would like to support. History teacher Claire Mrozek encourages her students to get involved in politics regardless of what political affiliation they may have.
“Last year, I gave extra credit to anyone who worked as a poll worker,” Mrozek said. “I would imagine that I would give any student who actively worked for a campaign of either side extra credit if they wrote about how it helped their understanding.”
Helping students think for themselves and develop their own political opinions is critical. According to a poll of ____ upper school students, ____ believe that it’s important for students to discover their own political affiliations regardless of parental affiliation. Knowing this, administrators, since the 2020 presidential election, have worked to ensure that they are teaching students with no political biases in order to ensure a safe, inclusive learning environment.
“When we’re talking about helping students to form their own political views, what our goal is as teachers is when discussing something that could be interpreted as political is to make sure you’re presenting both sides to the students,” Head of upper school and government teacher Henry Heil said. “I grew up in a household that was very slanted politically, and I always regretted that I didn’t really have the ability to express my own political opinions at home and because of that I felt much better doing so at school. I want ESD to be that place for kids. I want them to feel comfortable expressing their opinions in class without fear of judgement.”
Victoria Hammett ‘17 felt that the school’s encouragement of political discourse encouraged her to become politically engaged. Hammett, since graduating, has become politically active via social media, becoming a part of the non-profit political organization “Gen-Z for Change.” Hammett attributes much of her affinity for politics to the learning environment created during her time in the upper school.
“Allowing politics to be discussed in the classroom allows students to know that they can be active members of their community and that staying informed is very important,” Hammett said. “For me, these discussions sparked a lot of interest for me to become involved [in politics]. It really encouraged me to reach outside of the classroom and discover my own political beliefs and become passionate about those beliefs in turn.”
Above all, Hammett believes that the school gives its students the resources they need to become a part of healthy political engagement.
“At the end of the day, everyone is going to have different political affiliations, that just happens to be the nature of our country,” Hammett said. “The most important thing, which I think ESD does a great job of encouraging, is that we all stay informed and really decide for ourselves what to think rather than let other people decide for us what to think.”