When my husband Jason and I decided to give our daughter a phone and an Instagram account, these gifts came with a string: she agreed to having many, many (so very many) open conversations with us about using social media kindly.
The first time we sat down together to discuss the kinds of photos she may share on her account, thinking about who may see -- and share -- her photos once they're online, she gave me the one-liner that you, too, may have heard before: "But it's a private account; only my friends can see my pictures and they would never do anything like that."
Right there and then, I showed her how very big that misconception is. Here's what I did in three steps and in less than one minute:
1. I went to one of her friend's who I follow (private) account, clicked into one of her photos, and screen capped it by pressing exactly two buttons.
2. Then I went into my own camera roll and there was that (private) photo saved into my stream.
3. I clicked the "share" button on the bottom left corner of my screen and these were just some of the choices that popped up for me: I could share that (private) photo via text, email, Twitter, and Facebook.
If I had shared that photo, each of my followers on each of these platforms could have done the exact same thing.
What I wanted to show my daughter is that really, really easily and quickly that (private!) photo had the potential to be seen by way more than the 100 approved followers this girl had on her account.
I, of course, didn't share her photo, and you might be thinking that your kids' friends would never share it either. But do you remember being a tween and a teen? Do you remember being impulsive? Do you remember not always thinking things through?
Our kids aren't all that different then we were at this age. But their access to social media makes their quickly made decisions capable of being a little bigger, a little louder, have a little more impact, a bigger punch, if you will.
They're savvy, really savvy, and they know how to do these things, it seems almost instinctively at times and we, of course, can't control what everyone who follows our kids on social media will do.
This is why private accounts and bully proofing our kids aren't the solutions to bullying -- on or off-line.
The solutions lie in teaching our kids to first think about the potential reach of their posts, about who could see their photos and words, before they share them.
And second, to make sure that we're raising the kind of kids who really would "never do that kind of thing."
This entire exercise took less than one minute to do with my daughter. I do, and will continue to, revisit it every once in a while. But in comparison, "bully proofing" programs have been around at least since I started teaching -- which has been almost two decades now -- and bullying statistics aren't getting any better.
We have to have direct conversations with our kids about the harm this kind of behavior could do, the feelings this could hurt, the ripples this could cause. We have to help them be the kids who see behavior like this as problematic-to not take part in it and to be the ones to speak up against it.
We have to raise kind kids who will use social media to lift -- always.
We have to raise kind kids.
Galit's book, Kindness Wins, is a simple, no-nonsense guide to teaching our kids to be kind online. Learn more here.
This post first appeared on Galit's blog, These Little Waves.
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