First off, I proclaim to be no expert in this arena. The reality of my situation is that my parents, although well-intentioned, had no idea what I was doing online when I was 12 or 13. The media was so new and progressing so quickly that they assumed no dangers were present.
For instance, they didn’t know I was writing role-playing sagas with other Batman fanatics, and I was always the borderline-erotic Catwoman. The other writers were easily in their 30s, if not even older.
But – in their defense – the internet was a much smaller, more private place at that time. Keeping up with your kid’s whereabouts was not nearly as easy.[sws_pullquote_right]I try and drill into the kids that, yes, employers will definitely Google you prior to an interview or a hiring. [/sws_pullquote_right]
As karma would have it, I now am partially responsible for a teenager who is active on the internet. Because I know what trouble is truly out there – having been in it myself at his age – I’m a little more fastidious about what tabs I keep on the kids.
Here’s some basics that we employ in my house, for starters.
1. Know Your Rights
You have a right to social media, but I have every right to “follow” you there. To deny my kids access to things like Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter would be silly. You learn so much about communication through trial and error in those forums that I feel like forbidding the kids from them would be a disservice. (Case in point: if I were to go back and look at, say, blog posts I wrote eight years ago? I would see how immature my writing style was.) But while they have a right to them, I have the same right to follow them there. You’re my Facebook friend, I follow you on Twitter or Instagram, and quite frankly, I also have your passwords there.
Speaking of, I’ll give you a loose leash initially. But I will tighten it in a heartbeat. I have all passwords to social media accounts. The kids know I do. They also know that I will not sign into their accounts unless I have reason to, and I will notify them that I’m doing so. (Not, like, a DAY in advance or anything, but while I’m doing it.) I want them to feel like they are empowered to make the right choices.
Once you’re old enough to represent yourself on social media, I’ll allow you the choice of how you want to be represented. I try and drill into the kids that, yes, employers will definitely Google you prior to an interview or a hiring. And how you’re representing yourself on social media can definitely influence an employer! That’s a REAL THING now. Flashing gang signs, holding red Solo cups with bloodshot eyes, scandalous clothing.. whether or not I agree with snap judgements on these things doesn’t matter. Employers base their idea of you on what you put out there. Be smart about it.
And I mean that. I’ll even do my part to assist you. Maybe you don’t want pictures of you changing the baby’s diapers on social media, even though I know MY friends will want to see it. (And loudly praise you for it.) Once the kids have their own presence, I won’t tag them in my pictures or status updates any more. (Of course, they always have the options to add their own tags, and I’ll always always accept them.)
3. Know the Dangers Well
I’m going to speak frankly to you about the dangers out there. I’m not a fan of raising kids in a fear-based way, but they need to know – factually – what lies out there. The amount of detail I’ll go into with them varies with age: the 5 year old gets the “There are tricky strangers out there” speech, while the 13 year old gets the “There are people who hurt kids like you out there” speech. I also share with them that kids they know have been solicited online. It happens. And these kids aren’t unintelligent or lazy… sometimes, there are just tricky strangers who dupe us all.
And I expect the same from you. If something happens online that makes you feel wrong or icky, I need to know about it. If the same guy shows up in your gaming circle and says things that make you feel wrong, please tell me. My favorite analogy is that antelope never question why they fear a lion. They don’t sit and think. Hm, maybe I’m being overly sensitive about this lion, laying in wait to pounce on me. Maybe I’m overreacting. Nope, the antelope merely trusts their fight or flight instinct. So if something feels wrong to you, there’s probably a really good reason. I expect you to let me know. We’ll talk about how to handle it together, but I need to know what’s happening.
4. No Trolls Allowed
Treat people online as you would treat them to their face. I WILL NOT RAISE ANY TROLLS. If you’re brazen enough to bully someone to their face, do so in person, please. (I will make you regret it, promise.) But if you wouldn’t dream of saying something derogatory or terrible to someone in person? You are a coward to do it through a keyboard. It’s the golden rule, interwebs style.
Lastly, know this: I am judge, jury, and executioner of your social media presence as long as you live under my roof. If any of the above rules have blatantly been disregarded, I will disable your accounts. Straight up. I will tell you I’m doing that, and you will sit with me as I do it. The end.
There’s a lot of room for missteps and mistakes on today’s internet, and that’s a good and bad thing. I want my kids to feel in control of the privilege of social media participation, but I also want to steer them down the right path. Mostly because I want them to be employable adults, so they’ll move out of my house at a reasonable age. (I told you I’d speak frankly to you!)
Do you have any other tips or tricks on how to navigate kids through social media? What’s worked for you?