Attention teens and parents: A teen’s “digital footprint” starts early! Sadly, our teens are spending more time online. I say sadly because they have the rest of their life to be online and I wish we could delay it for their own sanity and safety! 72% of teens are using some form of social media/networking. 22% admit checking social sites at least 10 times per day. And with mobile devices, I fear these stats will just increase. I see it in my own house and as a parent, I am constantly telling my kids to go play outside, limiting the time they spend online and constantly talking to them about what they are doing. It is tough being a parent these days and I think even tougher being a teen! The best thing we can do for them is help guide them through it and teach them how to post and communicate appropriately. Hopefully by the time they are 18, they will at least have a basic foundation to help them communicate in life–both on and off the “net.”
Recently I have had the pleasure of talking with middle schools (teenagers) about the importance of posting–and not posting–online. A big attention grabber for 14 year-olds is this statement: In less than 10 years, MOST of YOU will be working in the real world. I repeat this statement again as most parents of 14 year-olds will tell you they need this repetition. This statement is fact but it invokes looks of confusion, shock and panic by some. It’s true though and colleges are looking at what kids post as are recruiters, parents, school administrators, coaches, camp counselors and future employers. Posting online is 3 things: 1. Global 2. Permanent 3. Discoverable (as in a court of law). In planning my powerpoints to these teens I have developed the “10 commandments” of posting online. It doesn’t matter what technology or site these kids are on. What does matter is the content that is posted.
1. Remember that everything you post is public (assume it is even if you have privacy settings)
2. Use privacy settings but don’t rely on them
3. Don’t post inappropriate photos and comments (and we need to define “inappropriate” in many cases)
4. Don’t engage in fights or disputes online (and don’t video fights and put them on You-Tube)
5. Take responsibility for your actions (i have a slide of teens drinking beer and posting pictures online…a real case study where police caught them)
6. Limit personal information online (don’t take a picture of your little sister in a bra and put it on facebook for example)
7. Be respectful
8. Be selective–It’s ok not to “friend” someone
9. Use it in productive, healthy ways
10. If it’s not ok for your parents, preacher or teacher to see, don’t post it (this pretty much sums it up)
It’s important for teens to realize that what they post now can have an impact in their lives later. Posts can potentially damage hopes of getting into the preferred college or getting a scholarship. They can prevent one from running for an elected position or public office. Posting can also decrease chances of getting recruited for a sport, the armed forces or a future job.
In a few weeks I’m speaking to the parents of an all boys middle school and high school about some of these issues. It always amazes me that many of the parents either won’t allow their kids to be online at all OR say they don’t really know what their kids are posting, neither of which I think is constructive. I tell parents to follow these few guidlelines:
· talk to your teens about posting online even if you don’t do it yourself–get them to show you their facebook page and remember you are the parent;
· limit access to the internet–put the family computer in the kitchen
· don’t give in to the temptation to let your teenager get an iPhone or media heavy mobile device (my son has dropped his filp phone into water and so he somehow “found” an old phone–embarrasing I know–that his SIM card fits and wa-la! He can text again)
· even if they earn money to buy it, don’t let them.
· Show them examples of what is appropriate and what’s not; I have plenty of examples I see everyday in the trenches and my kids know that there’s no escaping me using some of these as lessons–sometimes at the dinner table (picture rolling of eyes, heavy sighs)
· encourage being “net savvy”…they can’t learn if you don’t teach them and better a parent than a stranger, right?
· encourage them to tell you if something is wrong or somebody is being aggessive or mean. I remember telling my daughter when she was 4 and 5 that no matter what, no responsible adult would ask a child for directions (don’t talk to strangers). Same rules apply online if you think about it.
· make your kids friend you on FaceBook, but please don’t like or comment or talk to them on FaceBook (you are the parent, not the pal)
· if your kids won’t listen to you, find someone they will (youth minister, guidance counselor, etc) and work your plan to keep them safe and focused;
· get your kids outside and into fun, family, wholesome and healthy fun–they’re still kids!