April 20, 2023

Empowering Students to Use Their Mic For Good: Insights From a Student Entrepreneur

When we surveyed nearly 23,000 students, we learned that the majority of students are using smartphones by age 10. Growing up in today’s digital world has changed drastically, and many educators don’t know all the ins and outs of what students are facing online. So when students have questions, they don’t always know who to turn to for advice to help them through these new challenges of navigating their digital worlds. 

Thankfully, there are student influencers who are working to create a space where students can go for advice, like Zach Gottlieb. Zach is a 17-year-old student thought leader and entrepreneur, who founded Talk With Zach, “a Gen Z movement and community that hosts important conversations to change the culture, inspire activism, and make the world a better place.” As our students constantly experience significant changes and transitions, they may struggle to process and deal with new experiences. Many of the questions Zach receives relate to issues such as handling breakups, college expectations, gender and racism concerns, social media usage, and relationships with parents. With Talk With Zach, students have a resource to turn to for advice and a listening ear to help them navigate their struggles.

In the interview, Zach discusses his personal experiences as a teenager during the global pandemic, the struggles he and his peers faced with mental health issues, and provided advice for other students on coping. He stressed that no one is alone and there are always people available to listen and offer assistance. Zach also discussed the importance of embracing vulnerability and provided insight into the impact of social media on students.

What does it mean to be “strong”?

Zach is a big advocate for openly discussing mental health, with an emphasis on emotional fluency. He started Talk With Zach after noticing the difficulty boys had in expressing their emotions. He recognized that society placed emphasis on being “strong” and pushing through challenges, but Zach questioned what it truly meant to be “strong.” He believes that embracing vulnerability and seeking guidance when needed can also be a demonstration of strength.

A supportive online community

Talk With Zach was created to support students in being open and talking about anything that may be holding them back. It is a space where students can come together and provide advice to one another or talk about similar experiences they are all going through. There are opportunities to ask questions and get answers from experts on topics that students might not be comfortable discussing with people close to them, their peers, or their family. 

Zach also facilitates a space where students can support each other. Through open discussion of important but potentially isolating topics, students can connect over shared experiences and feelings of uncertainty. This helps them to recognize that they are not alone in their emotions. Zach firmly believes that talking about such issues can bring about positive change and growth. He emphasizes that “We can’t change what we don’t talk about.”

For high schoolers, change is fast approaching. Graduation, applying to colleges, or figuring out what they want to do for the rest of their lives are all things that weigh heavily on a lot of students. For younger students, it could be moving schools, making new friends, or just trying to find themselves in such a unique and transformative time of their lives. Zach has experienced all of these phases and the emotions that go along with them, and so have his friends. That’s why he created Talk With Zach, so that other students have a community they can turn to talk about these common experiences and know they are not alone. 

How has social media played a role in creating this community?

Social media has played a crucial role in shaping Zach’s entrepreneurial journey. As a passionate student, he created a thriving community that supports and empowers other students. This community heavily relies on social media to function effectively, from positive and uplifting posts with supportive comment sections to engaging live streams featuring experts and professionals. Through his social media platform, Zach has been able to connect with a wide audience and create a safe space where students can share their experiences, voice their concerns, and receive support from their peers. 

As a student himself, Zach provides a great perspective on how students feel about social media and how their schools perceive the different apps students use. He explained how a lot of educators see social media as something that is very black-and-white. However, Zach believes there’s a gray area. He explained, “You can now connect with people in ways that weren’t possible before.” That’s just one of the many ways that social media has impacted students’ lives. There are many upsides to students using social media, and if we empower them to use it positively, our students will thrive, not only online but in their daily lives as well.  

Here are some ideas Zach shared with us to encourage students to use social media positively:

  • Students can create a smaller, private account with very close friends and family where they can post things they love or are passionate about, places they’ve been, and random pictures they’ve taken. This will help them play to their core online and post things that truly mean something to them and align with their value without feeling pressure to be perfect for their larger followings.
  • Strike a balance by taking a break from social media when it becomes overwhelming. Look for alternative activities that bring joy and satisfaction, such as spending time with friends, exploring new hobbies or skills, enjoying the outdoors, engaging in physical exercise, or starting to read a new book.
  • Empower students to spot misinformation by emphasizing that not everything they see or hear on social media is true. When looking at a post, it’s important to not compare yourself or your life to the person that posted it, and instead try to be happy for them!

As students navigate social media and tech, educators can empower students to #WinAtSocial by encouraging them to find their influencers and follow positive role models, like Zach, who is using his mic for good to create a positive change in his community. 

Educators can also become positive influencers for their students by showing them how simple it is to use social media and tech in high-character ways. To get started, follow the steps outlined in our school playbook: The power of educators as social media influencers and setting positive examples in the classroom.

Always stay up-to-date with the latest and greatest trends online by subscribing to our newsletter where we talk about trending tech and social media news weekly! In the meantime, check out our Instagram and TikTok @thesocialinst for tips, trends, and highlights when it comes to social media. 

The Social Institute (TSI) is the leader in understanding student experiences and creator of #WinAtSocial, a gamified, online learning platform that equips students, educators, and families to navigate social experiences — online and offline — in healthy ways. Our unique, student-respected approach incorporates topics like social media, technology use, and current events that have a significant impact on student well-being. Lessons teach life skills for the modern day to inspire high-character decisions that support the health, happiness, and future success of students, while capturing data that provides insights to school leaders to inform school policy and communications, and enable high-impact teaching and a healthy learning environment. For schools, our turnkey technology allows for easy implementation and a comprehensive game plan to support the well-being of school communities. For schools, our turnkey technology allows for easy implementation and a comprehensive game plan to support the well-being of school communities.