Elmhurst College: Teaching the @BCs of Social Media

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Teaching the @BCs of Social Media

Lisa Caravelli wants to ease the anxieties of one of the world’s most worried populations: the parents of teenagers.

Caravelli, a junior marketing major from St. Charles, would like parents to fret just a little less about their children’s attachment to social media. So Caravelli has begun visiting area high schools to educate parents about the sites and apps that absorb so much of their kids’ attention and time. Think of her as a guide to the Digital Age for the Twitter-illiterate.

“So many parents are so negative about social media,” Caravelli said. “You can see the fear in their eyes. They want to know what their kids are doing and if they are safe. I try to tell them that social media can be a great tool if used right.”

Caravelli’s message comes at a time of escalating fear among parents about young people’s misuses of new technologies. A new anonymous messaging application (or “gossip app”) called Yik Yak made headlines this spring when reports of cyberbullying led several Chicago-area high schools to block the site’s use on school grounds.

Caravelli’s budding career as a social-media sensei began earlier this year when she heard that a parents’ group in St. Charles, where she attended public schools, was looking for a student to help them understand the ways young people use social media sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, as well as newer messaging apps. Caravelli offered her services. Her presentation, which offered a common-sense, hands-on introduction to the basics of social media, was such a hit that the parents asked to her to repeat her talk to a larger group. Soon she was fielding requests from other school districts and from small businesses.

Caravelli said her experiences at Elmhurst have prepared her well for her new role. She is the founder of the C! Team, a social-media group devoted to promoting the activities of the College’s communications department, where Caravelli is working on a minor. The group maintains a lively and informative microblog and its members have made road trips to a social-media seminar at Marquette University in Milwaukee and have toured the Fox 32 News studios in Chicago.

An intern at the College’s Center for Professional Excellence, Caravelli also helped organize an early-March event for Elmhurst students interested in learning to use LinkedIn, the popular business networking site. More than 60 students attended.

Holly Coffin, coordinator of internships at the CPE, credited Caravelli with helping to drive student participation in the center’s events.

“Lisa’s social media skills have elevated the CPE to another level,” she said. “We tweet, pin and even tumbl.” (Tumblr is a microblogging platform popular with students.)

Caravelli hopes she can use her ability to explain the mysteries of social media to establish a small social-media consultancy. She sees herself making the rounds of area school districts to educate more parents about their children’s online lives.

“This is my area of expertise,” she said.

Caravelli draws the line, however, at offering parenting advice. Parents at her presentations sometimes ask for her opinion about how to limit or monitor their kids’ time on social media sites. Caravelli said she turns such questions over to other parents in the audience for discussion, which usually results in a helpful exchange of ideas.

“I think it’s important for parents to understand that kids being attached to social media is just the new norm, and that if they trust their kids, they shouldn’t be too overly worried about it,” she said. “Kids’ behavior on social media is just an extension of the rules and norms that their parents have set for them.”

Caravelli is herself an active user of several social media sites, including her current enthusiasm, Pinterest, a kind of virtual scrapbook. Caravelli, who shares photos of her baking and crafting activities on the site, said proudly that one of her recent posts received more than 4,000 “repins.”

Her mission, she said, is to share her expertise with the parents who need it most.

“They are so eager to learn,” she said. “They come up to me after my presentation and they say, ‘Thank you. You made me feel better.’”

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