If the only thing I told my kids about sex was to use protection, would you think I was a good parent? If I had never said more about drugs other than "don't," would that have been OK?
Then why is it alright that the only thing I told my kids about social media is be careful and don't post anything that you don't want employers, colleges and your grandparents to see? One caution, one phrase... clearly, a dereliction of duty.
Yet I told them no more than this, because frankly, I had nothing more to say. I grew up as a parent contemporaneously with the Internet, and was very much a naif just as my children needed me. Parenting at the dawn of the Internet was like running in place, just trying to keep up with what my kids might know that I didn't. I envy any parent who knew about Snapchat before their child did.
I should have told my boys that:
- Social media is not an invisibility cloak. People can still see you behind it no matter how you try to hide. Everything you say or do will reflect on you.
- Facebook can be a powerful force for hurting feelings. When my kids were small, we invited every kid in their class to their birthday parties. No one should feel left out. Not getting an invitation is nothing compared to seeing twenty photos of the party you missed. I should have told my children to think of others feelings when they posted images and news. It doesn't matter if every other kid at the event posted photos, if it is going to hurt feelings, don't.
- Twitter is designed for impulse chatting and the impulses of teens are not always good. I taught my kids to stop at the stop sign, take a moment and look both ways. I should have said the same thing about Twitter. Pause for a good long moment. Put your phone back in your pocket and try to imagine that what you were about to type is being read by me, your mother. Still OK? Then take your phone out and tweet away.
- If you have something important to say, you must say it in person, whether that person is a peer or an adult. The harder it is to say, the more important it is that you don't use a phone or a computer. I love modern communication as much as the next mom, but it will never replace the look in another person's eye.
- What might seem harmless to a teenager, like sexting or the swapping of inappropriate videos and photos, is the stuff that jail time and public humiliation are made of. If teens have underage lewd photos on their computers or phones they are at risk. If their parents use those computers, however unknowingly, they are also at risk. Forwarding such photos is also a criminal act. Do not involve yourself as either sender or recipient, as model or photographer. This may seem amusing for one moment, but not for very long.
It is important to remember my favorite line from The Social Network, "The Internet isn't written in pencil... it's written in ink."
The first decade of the twenty-first century will be remembered as the birth of social media. For me, that meant parenting in uncharted territory. There were no books, grandparents or pediatricians to ask. And while more continues to be written about bringing kids up in the Internet age, each new development demands a new parental response. As time went on, I began to absorb these lessons but parenting in the time of Facebook is very much a work in progress. What have you learned?