07/20/2010 11:33 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Tweeting for Teenagers: Practicing Safe Text

My kids are approaching the dangerous age -- the age of dating, of having their own cell phones and laptops, and, of course, of Twitter. That age of consent being 13, it's time to start having The Talks, because they're never too young to learn about reality.

Am I nervous? Of course I am. Things are different than when I was a kid, when we didn't even conceive of such things (so to speak) until later in life. It was probably an easier time back them, now that I think about it. Ignorance is bliss, blah blah blah. Out at dawn, back at dusk, those were our rules. Try not to get maimed in the process.

Now it's a little more complicated, and as parents we need to stay on top of it. Everyone's doing it, and they're doing it young. Heck, I didn't even date at 13, and these days kids are breaking up with each other electronically. So let's take a look at one particular piece of equipment that has the potential for serious -- and sometimes lifelong -- consequences. The unprotected sex of the social media world, Twitter.

Well, that may have been a little dramatic, I suppose. Tweeting certainly can be done correctly. But doing it wrong can have unintended negative consequences, and some of those consequences can last a long, long time. We need only take a look at John Mayer, Lindsay Lohan and Jim Carrey to demonstrate to our kids that there is such a thing as too much information -- or too idiotic information, grammatically incorrect though it is. Kids need to remember - even if adults sometimes can't - that free speech gives us the right to say what's on our minds, not necessarily the obligation to do so.

The Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher cleanse? Do I need to know that? Really? Yet when their tweets make headlines, those headlines are seared into my brain before said brain can even register a "WTF?" Twitter can bring movie stars down to a human level, and in some ways that's a good thing; by the same token, however, I don't even want to know when my best friend is doing a colon cleanse.

What's even more dangerous, however, is the fact of our thoughts encapsulated in 140 characters or less when those thoughts need clarification. CNN recently fired their Senior Editor of Middle East Affairs, Octavia Nasr, for a politically unpopular but completely personal tweet. Doesn't even matter what it was about, really. What matters is the claim that her professional integrity was compromised by her personal post. When your job is to, above all else, remain impartial, apparently there really is no separate area for personal thoughts.

The problem with tweeting, it would seem, even if one is able to keep the tweets on the level of the mundane, is a lack of editor. A lack of filter. It's like unprotected sex -- what comes out, comes out. And it can't go back in. This is dangerous on a good day with adults.

Now picture it on a bad day in the teen world, the hallmarks of which do not typically include self-restraint and forethought. Absent the ability to show facial expressions or accompanying body language or context, any innate sense of self-editing -- "How will what I'm about to say affect this person and/or our relationship?" is gone. The tweet, on the other hand, is here to stay.

Suddenly an argument with a best friend, which in the old days would blow over by dinner, escalates with the trusty help of a Twitter post to a break in the friendship. Secrets are shared in anger, hateful words are said in haste, and feelings are hurt -- sometimes beyond repair -- with a 140-character zing. Careless whispers, indeed.

There was an old saying when I was growing up -- If you can't say anything nice about someone, don't say anything at all. Today's translation might be, If you can't tweet what you really mean and without regret in 140 characters or less, then don't tweet anything at all. Step back from the heat of the moment and put on the filter. You'll be glad you did.

And then maybe you can show some of the grownups how it's done.

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