I’m Really Glad I Didn’t Grow Up in a Social Media World: My TOP 10 LIST OF IMPORTANT INTERENET TIPS TO TEACH YOUR KIDS
Think about kids today; every move they make is traceable if they are a part of any social media and if they post pictures and comments. Now, I was in no way a rebel as a child or teen, but in my college days, I will admit, I did some things I would not want posted for the world to see. It is so difficult trying to teach the youth of our generation that nothing is truly private, and once something is posted, it is posted for life, whether you delete it or not.
For the past 4 years, I have been a media specialist/computer skills technology teacher. Part of technology instruction included teaching about internet/online safety. I went over so many crucial components with my students who were in grades 3-5, and they swore to me that they never participated in any of the actions that we discussed. However, what they did not realize is that I have a child going in to 5th grade and one approaching 8th grade. Unlike some parents, my husband and I are Instagram stalkers. So, when those kids would swear up and down that they did not post private information, I had to just nod, knowing that sharing my true knowledge would incriminate one of my own children. When I was growing up, it was bad enough that everyone knew my parents and were more than happy to report my every move to my parents. Kids of today are even more vulnerable, but not only to their parents, but also to predators of the dangerous kind. Below I am going to share some of my tips that I used with my students. Some of them took my advice to heart, and some of them said that if their parents were okay with their online behavior, it was none of my business. That was in deed true. I respect every parent’s decision, so please do not take what I write as a criticism. Some kids are more mature than others and can handle more online freedoms. Also, some parents are very vigilant. On the other hand, I had parents who refused to even purchase one technological device for their children. So, as I am saying, it is a matter of personal choice and parenting style. My tips are merely suggestions. Until I started teaching internet safety, even I overlooked some of the items I am going to mention.
TIP #1: NEVER GIVE CLUES ABOUT YOURSELF IN PICTURES THAT YOU POST.
This tip is true for kids and adults alike. I would always tell my students, “Do not wear t-shirts that display your team names. People can search your area and seek you out. Do not take pictures of yourself in front of your house with the house number on the door and the street sign visible on the corner.” I would always have at least one or two children raise their hands to tell me that their parents do this, so it must be okay. I would simply tell them to just be careful. I also cautioned them about taking group photos in front of their school, photos that displayed the school’s name. You can never be too careful. I know that Instagram features many apps that can be used to alter or dress up photos. For example, my daughter would use an Instagram app to place a smiley face or flower over a tee that displayed her team name or location. I am not implying that the photos cannot be posted, I am simply suggesting safety.
TIP #2: NEVER GIVE OUT PERSONAL INFORMATION ONLINE
I always instructed my students to use made up names when signing up for online gaming services. When my own children sign up for sites, they use either my birthday or my husband’s. If we are too old, I have them make up a birthday and year. I didn’t even care if they were using Webkinz; I did not want them disclosing their real birthdays. The same goes for addresses, phone numbers, school addresses, and anything considered personal information. I would have students ask me what they should do if they are shopping online. Personally, I always do the online shopping for my children. If they want some independence, I allow them to type in my name, address, and birthday. However, I always do the credit card information myself. My 2 girls know: When in doubt, ask Mom or Dad. I cannot stress enough that you can never be too careful when it comes to your precious children. One never knows what hackers are able to pull from photos or information we provide online. That is the scary aspect of online use. Do I think the internet is powerful and very useful? Absolutely. But, at the same time, I also find the internet to be a very scary and dangerous place for our youth. If you are interested in a great online source for helping you to teach your children about internet safety, I used commonsensemedia,org in my classroom. It was a free site with videos and online games. The kids loved it, and it allowed for some great conversations. Sometimes students would tell me way more than I bargained for, but that goes along with teaching. For example, when I would tell students that they should never go out and personally or publicly meet someone they met on the internet, they would say, “What if my parents are with me?” I could not dispute that one. If parents are okay with it, then that question was out of my hands. Many children told me that their parents used online dating sites, and that is fine. But, I did instruct my students not to use those sites, not at their age, anyway!
TIP #3 ALWAYS SHARE YOUR ONLINE USE WITH YOUR PARENTS OR GUARDIANS
In order to sign up for a Facebook account, students are to be 13 years of age. Many of my 3rd grade students—we’re talking 8 & 9 year olds—told me they had their own Facebook accounts. In many of those instances, I was told that parents set up the accounts. Now, 1. Maybe those students were not being completely honest with me, and 2. If parents are okay with it, then that was not for me to judge. However, I did caution them about the materials and pictures that they chose to include on their Facebook page. As I mentioned, I do not believe that students truly grasp the concept of once something is posted, it could live forever in the online world. Some of them would say to me, “Oh, I deleted that picture. It’s not on the internet anymore.” Really? What I would then explain to them is the concept that 100 or more people may have already captured the image or comment. Therefore, what they believe to be gone is not. Like in my day, gossip, though it was hurtful, did not live forever. With the internet, everything has the possibility of being forever present. I tried to drive this notion home with my students. I certainly have it drilled into the heads of my own two girls!
TIP #4: BE CAREFUL WHO YOU TRUST
Even when I was a kid, my friends were my friends one day and my enemies the next. I always told my students to never share their passwords to accounts with anyone but their parents. Some would tell me that their best friends knew their account information and passwords, but they trusted them. I told them that was a slippery slope for the reason mentioned above. I can only hope that I caused some of them to change their minds or at least discuss the issue with their parents. Last year we had a horrible incident occur at a local high school. About 99 girls sent naked or semi-naked photos of themselves to boys. Some sent them to boys who were “trusted” boyfriends. Others just sent them because the boys made a request. Those boys turned the photo sharing into a game of trading cards, much like we would have traded baseball cards when we were young. Many of those girls suffered great humiliation. Some of those boys, those 18 and over, ended up in more trouble than they had imagined. It’s not easy being a youth or parent in today’s digital world. Everything that is posted must be carefully thought about before being sent. I always tell my own children that if what they are about to post would embarrass them or us, their parents, do not share. I tell them to ask themselves, “Would this post land me in trouble with my parents? Would my parents be disappointed in this post?” If they think the answer would be “yes,” they are not to make the post.
TIP #5: WHAT YOU POST ON THE INTERNET COULD AFFECT MANY AREAS OF YOUR LIFE
Whether people are aware of this or not—and this tip goes for young and old—employers, colleges, and others are now turning to social media to evaluate people and their character. People have been fired from jobs based on what they post on the internet. Just this year, we were given a small talk about what we should and should not post to online sites as teachers. I am a parent, a taxpayer, and an employee in the same district. That causes quite a conflict of interest. For that reason, I choose to post nothing. I want nothing in writing that could be used against me. Referring back to the case of the high school boys, one of them lost a very prestigious sports scholarship as a result of his involvement in the picture scandal. The internet is mighty, for both positive and negative purposes. Kids need to be taught the difference at a young age. They need to know they can trust their parents and teachers with questions they may have about their internet use.
TIP #6: YOU SHOULD ALWAYS ASK PERMISSION BEFORE POSTING COMMENTS OR PHOTOS OF OTHERS ONLINE
Again, this tip applies to children and adults. Some people do not like having their picture or behaviors posted online. For adults, jobs could be placed in jeopardy. With children, parents may be against the postings. In some cases, friends could inadvertently bring bullying into the lives of their friends over what they perceived to be an innocent picture. I will share an example from our family. My husband is a Technology Director in our school district, so we are very open with the devices we buy our girls and their use of technology. However, we are also very stringent with our policies. Our girls know that they could be “audited” by one of us at any time. I know that sounds silly, but it is that knowledge that keeps them in line. Our oldest learned an online lesson the hard way. One of her friends from another school made a collage of the band One Direction. But, in place of one of the band members, she inserted the face of a boy with whom they are all friends from the swim team. When my husband noticed the post by our daughter, he questioned her as to whether or not the boy was aware that 1. The picture collage was created and 2. Did he know that it was being re-circulated? Our daughter said that since another friend of theirs made the collage, she just assumed it was okay to repost. My husband explained to her that without the permission of the boy, it was not okay to repost. He drove her 40 minutes to that friend’s house so she could apologize for reposting a picture without his permission. Our daughter was not happy with us at all, and her friend was upset as well. He was not aware that the collage was created and was being sent around. His response shocked our daughter and caused her to think about her actions. She did apologize, but she also felt bad for not checking with him. We taught her a valuable lesson, one we hope she remembers.
TIP #7: NEVER TELL PEOPLE ONLINE WHERE YOU ARE
My students struggled with this one, because they told me that their parents use those check-in apps all the time. I explained to them that when we check in somewhere, we are telling the world where we are. If they are not with their parents, they could be inviting trouble into their actual lives and worlds. If their parents know they use the apps, then that is a parental decision. But, if their parents are not aware, the students could be creating a serious situation. For example, so many people—both kids and adults—will post when they leave for vacations and when they are returning. I informed my students that basically they are letting everyone know when their home will be unattended. I advised the students in my class to wait until they arrive home to announce the vacation and post the photos. That was just my suggestion, one that of course not everyone has to take into consideration.
TIP # 8: NEVER PARTICIPATE IN ONLINE POPULARITY QUESTIONS
My husband and I started noticing posts on Instagram that pitted 4 images together. Sometimes they were 4 female images, and other times they were 4 male images. The object was to vote for the prettiest or hottest person. We explained to our daughters that if we see them partaking in these surveys, they will cancel their Instagram accounts. Of course they were confused. What is the big deal with voting for people based on their looks? In today’s society, it is a huge deal. We tried to explain to them based on how they might feel if they are the number 4 person, or if they were to receive no votes whatsoever. Even though the intentions are probably not cruel, the voting basically creates a bullying-type situation. You have to take into account the feelings of everyone involved. Once we explained our feelings, the girls understood what we were trying to explain to them and what we were trying to prevent.
TIP #9: PREPARE YOUR CHILDREN FOR FEELINGS OF ISOLATION AND EXCLUSION
With the existence of social media, all kids are able to view what others are doing. When I was growing up, if I weren’t invited to a party, I only discovered that information on Monday morning at school. Did it sting a little? Maybe. But it was not as devastating as watching an instant play-by-play on social media. This happened to our oldest daughter. She was excluded from a party, and the girl hosting the party was—at least in my daughter’s mind—one of her really good friends. My daughter started posted comments such as, “Where are you? Why are you celebrating?” and so on. The posts made our child look very upset and desperate. We explained that although we understood her feelings, she could not be posting comments to the photos. We tried to make her see how those posts made her look. Was it hard for her and for my husband and myself? Sure. But, we as parents have to prepare our kids for these moments. Our youngest wasn’t invited to a birthday party. The girl could invite 10 kids, and our daughter was number 11, so she did not make the list. But, that did not stop the girl from texting my daughter pictures of them at the spa, pictures of her birthday cake, and others. I was so agitated; my husband had to talk me off the cliff. Okay, so my child was not invited to the party; I was okay with that. I was not okay with the “I’m going to rub your exclusion in your face” part of the event. Not all kids are kind digital citizens; that’s why we want our girls to be. If we have a party, we usually tell them to post pics the next week or privately share them with those involved. We have experienced a great deal of drama as a result of social media. Sometimes I wonder if our youth are too young for social media. Some adults cannot even handle being on the sites. I have seen many adults fighting openly on Facebook and other sites. At any rate, we need to educate our kids and prepare them for the ugly sides of social media.
TIP #10: JUST LIKE YOU ARE EXPECTED TO ACT LIKE A DECENT CITIZEN IN ORDINARY LIFE, YOU ARE ALSO TO BE A RESPECTABLE DIGITAL CITIZEN WHEN YOU ENTER THE ONLINE WORLD.
We always teach our daughters, and I used this practice in my classroom as well, that you should behave online exactly as you would behave in public or face-to-face. I realize that may vary from child to child, but for those of us who actively monitor our children’s social interactions, we need to set our expectations for them. They need to know what we are looking for in their behaviors. Our girls know that if we enter their Instgram accounts, there will be certain behaviors that will not be accepted by us. We have been blessed with the fact that our girls do listen to us. Part of that is due to the fact that we pay for everything. Their devices were paid for by us, and their services are paid for by us. So, essentially, anything they own is technically ours. Therefore, if they cannot correctly use the devices, they will lose the devices. That’s that; end of story
Technology is an amazing tool for so many aspects of our lives. But, just like anything else, if used incorrectly, technology can be used for evil. Our children must know that anything inappropriate witnessed online must be reported to either their parents or a trusted school official or teacher, no matter if that inappropriate behavior is directed toward them or toward someone they know. Online bullying has become so prevalent in our world. Our kids need to know that they have a responsibility to protect themselves and others, no matter what world or realm they are exploring. I hope these tips help, and if you have any questions, please contact me. I love technology and the opportunities it provides for all of us. However, I know that I must also be aware of the negative sides and challenges presented by the use of technology. If everyone uses technology as a positive benefit, then all will run smoothly.