Last night I attended Jesse Miller‘s talk about kids and social media: the good, the bad and the ugly. As expected, ugly can get uglier with a click and Miller explained how.
The topic is as heavy as it is complicated. The recurring refrain was the one that seems to be the only viable solution, yet somehow the hardest to apply: dialogue. Children love to talk and they have a hefty amount of common sense which gets diluted with time.
If there was ever a time when parents have to hold on to their kids for dear life, I’d say this is it. The ever expansive social experiment of already gargantuan dimensions keeps on growing and the risk of losing ourselves and our children in it grows with it.
Children are barely prepared for life when they make their debut on any social media, that is a fact. Miller emphasized that. Children have the means to understand tech, they have the firing synapses that allow them to understand how the internet works and, thanks to their parents and a killer set of nag-plea-implore-till-you-get strategies, they have access to the latest in smartphone innovation.
But, they miss life experience. And it shows, sooner than expected. That’s where the parents come in. Ideally, through open dialogue that happens regularly rather than when the unthinkable happens, which is why last night’s talk took place to begin with.
Interestingly enough though, many parents commit their children to the unforgiving forces of social media very early on. The perspective offered by Miller was an eye-opener for many I hope. Parents dump folder after folder of family photos on Facebook and Instagram; instances of their children’s life milestones, from the trenches of potty training to the glamour of graduation, and everything in between.
Many children who are now tweens and teens – the high risk category for offending, are becoming offenders or victims – have had a camera pointed at them since they can remember. Miller aptly points to the obvious: What are they going to do when they are given their own device? That’s right: Click and post.
The question that is always left unanswered in my opinion is this: Why do we feel the need to share so much detail with strangers? I am challenged by the notion of friendship of Facebook, I said it before. How did we become comfortable with the idea of sharing life bits? Why do we allow hundreds of people, Facebook friends, Instagram or Twitter followers, peek at our life events while still insisting on pulling the curtains at night?
There were a handful of take home messages last night, such as:
- Establish some good boundaries that will allow you to set a good example (no touching the phone while driving for example, no phone at the dinner table, and disconnect during family time)
- Talk to your kids about the dangers of sharing personal details with hordes of strangers (a couple of high school kids in the audience confirmed that many of their peers take photos of their driver’s license and post it online)
- Everything (or almost everything) that one posts online stays somewhere online. Scary to think about now that so much of your life is out there? That’s the point. Privacy is no longer to be expected.
There wasn’t a lot of talking about the sensible topic of inappropriate ‘selfies’ (the word of the year in 2013, and yes feel free to cringe) which caused an uproar at the South Kamloops Secondary School, but these share the same fate with the rest of things shared: They’ll be somewhere out there long after one wishes they’ll be gone. what’s worse, they become grounds for cyber bullying, shaming and, as seen over the last few years, they can push young people to commit suicide.
A chilling fact shared by Miller last night was the high number of views Amanda Todd’s You Tube video got after she died. In the millions that is. Sadly ironic, she was trying to attract attention to her case so that bullying would stop. It didn’t, until she took her own life.
‘Trending’, another strong social media term, makes no distinction between good and bad. if it gains audience it trends. Children should not be expected to make fair judgment calls about the content they see. Social media where information, questionable or not, piles up like a hundred avalanches a day, will keep being what it is: A repository that may or may not contain your child’s life bits, photos and opinions about life.
That’s why parents need to step in and provide guidance. it’s a learning experience for parents and children, but clumsiness makes both parties endearing to each other rather than resentful, so indulge. let loose, show that you’ve never done the social media thing before but maintain the one thing every parent should: That you know more about life and that puts you not in the friend seat but the parent seat. it’s a privilege and a challenge, and believe it or not, children know it and expect it.
For now, it comes down to this: boundaries and common sense have to be there. They have no expiration date because no matter where you are in life, if you make them your allies, you’ll be on solid ground.
I left the room last night with a lot of questions, and with an enhanced perspective over an issue that has been with me for a long time now.
in 2012, following Amanda Todd’s death, I left Facebook. I did not want to be a bystander. I knew, just like I know today, that children younger then 14 are allowed on Facebook when they should not be and that is akin to allowing them to drive long before they have the skills or maturity to do so. I knew, just like I know today, that in some parts of that virtual space someone is being bullied and someone might just decide to end their life to stop their suffering and the public shaming.
More than a year after that, I made my appearance on Facebook again, with the sole intention of sharing my writing, which, I was told, might just be a shame to miss if the issue is worth sharing.
My personal page though, which I need to have in order to have an author page, has been stripped to almost nothing. I took down the few photos I shared back when I thought Facebook to be a connection tool with faraway family and friends because I find no reason to share life bits like that. Sure it takes effort and time to maintain correspondence with those who matter, but then again, such efforts are nothing but an illustration of our caring for them, and the other way around.
I don’t expect anyone to share my beliefs, and I also fear that pending lack of engagement on the said platform over issues that I write about and I consider important, I might opt out again.
The thing is, there is a lack of strict boundaries that troubles me. One could argue that the plethora of social media platforms makes the denial of one almost insignificant. True. But I would like to take one of the messages from last night’s talk and solidify it: Do as you expect your children to do.
I have an open dialogue with my sons. To a fault, one could say. Yes, that close, and I am nothing but grateful for it. There is nothing we shy away from when it comes to talking and debating. To listening. I want to keep that alive: the openness, and the gratefulness attached to it.
But I also want to set boundaries that I hope will inspire my sons to think that in all the craziness of hurried, privacy-robbed times, our living space maintained enough common sense to spill into their decisions as they grow up.
One could hope.