British Columbia·Matheson

'You gotta Snapchat': An inside look at teens, social media and 'spam accounts'

Students at L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey offer a 'behind the screen' peek at what they are up to on the smartphones that have become an integral part of their social lives.

CBC reporter Jason D'Souza goes 'behind the screens' with students at L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey

Students at L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey, B.C., sit with their ever-present cell phones. (Evan MItsui/CBC)

"But Mr. McKillop, I will die without my cell phone ..."

Kyle McKillop teaches English at L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey and has gotten used to the melodramatics he faces when he raises the issue of cell phones in the first week of classes.

He estimates more than 85 per cent of his students have a smart phone, and trying to get them to keep their eyes on their studies and not their screens is a constant battle.

What those teens are up to on their smart phones might come as a surprise to teachers and parents alike.

Facebook is for 'old people'

CBC Vancouver reporter Jason D'Souza spent a month speaking with students at Matheson and learning about their lives. What he saw was the minute a teacher steps out of the classroom, out come the phones.

"Snapchat is really important in our age group," said Grade 11 student Simran Lal. "You gotta Snapchat what you're doing, what you eat, if you're at a party, if you're out with a guy."

And Facebook? Well, that's "for old people," she said.

Those "old people" have also started to infiltrate the popular social media platform Instagram, which is why many Matheson students told D'Souza they have created spam accounts to keep their parents in the dark about their social happenings.

CBC Vancouver reporter Jason D'Souza spent a month at L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey, B.C., to see what life is like for today's students. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Double identities

Lal said she has two Instagram accounts: one that profiles her as a "goody-girl" with perfect behaviour that she lets her mom follow, and a separate spam account under a pseudonym for her "goofy side," where she shares "not-so-appropriate things" like memes that she doesn't want her mom to see.

"Obviously, you want to follow your mom back on Instagram or friend them on Facebook," said Lal's classmate, Samantha Czulinski. But, she told D'Souza, there is "a type of humour that isn't intergenerational" and this, she said, is why spam or secondary accounts are necessary.

Czulinski's friend, Jaya Nyce, commiserates with her, saying that she posts a lot more "vulnerable" things on the private spam account she shares with friends — the type of content she keeps off her public account.

And it's not just constant social media maintenance that teens are up to. Cell phones are also their primary way of communicating with each other.

A student sits in class, his never too-far-from-reach cell phone resting on his desk. (Evan Mistui/CBC)

Kids will be kids

"I have a habit of going on my phone and messaging my friends while the teacher's talking," Grade 11 student Gagan Kaushal told D'Souza after having his phone confiscated during class by McKillop.

"I tell them cell phones will inhibit their growth in my class," said McKillop. In turn, his students tell him "how they'll die without the cell phone."

According to the school district's rules, cell phones are banned in the classroom. But McKillop said it feels like he is living in "some post-rule world" because whatever rule he tries to enforce against phone use just gets broken.

True to form, D'Souza saw Kaushal get busted again for the same offence by McKillop just a few hours later.

So teens might be slicker on social media than their parents. But in a sense, they are also still getting caught for the same antics kids in classrooms have always enjoyed.

They just happen to be passing GIFs instead of paper notes.

The role of social media and cell phones at L.A. Matheson Senior Secondary in Surrey. 9:51

This story is part of a series called Matheson, examining the lives of students at L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey, B.C. CBC journalist Jason D'Souza was given unparalleled access as he spent a month embedded at the high school in order to hear the students' unfiltered stories.