Parents – this one is for you.
I’ve never had children of my own, so my advice to you comes from a place of humility and also 8 years of continued experience with Junior High and High School students who are still helping me understand their culture. So, take this for what it is: An effort to bridge the gap and persuade you to hear me out before allowing your children (7-17 year olds) to participate in social media.
Social media is a beautiful weapon. A sleek, slender, and sharp sword that is useful for finding out about the world through swift swings and clean cuts. “Friendship” is defined on social media by whether you “follow” me, and I “follow” you back, but if we’re both following each other, how will we arrive at a better, more learned place? And friend requests – these wretched things – they are a trap. A trap that is a slap in the face to any person who “wants to be your friend” which is, unfortunately, the start of this falsehood. If you want to be their friend, then there are no issues (at least on the surface) that will be perceived. How dare you, however, click the “ignore” button. It sends your brain a message that you are choosing to not choose them and that they are not someone who you want to be a part of your intimate life. (That we act like Facebook is our intimate life is a joke in and of itself.) And to them, your “refusal of friendship” means that you are rejecting them as a person, because you’re rejecting the opportunity to invest in them as a falsified, happy-never-sad human of the inter webs. I mean, who doesn’t want to see all the cool things that I am participating in? Aren’t YOU doing cool and unpredictable things with your life? And if not, why not? Live a little. Don’t be so basic. Drink fancy coffee drinks and drive a fancy car. Have adventures in the wilderness and go to concerts with thousands of other people and eat at places that you’ve never been – but don’t just do these things; post about them.
Social Media “Way Back When”
I have been working in a school for the past few months, and while the experience has been incredible, it has brought to light the fact that social media is not often used for good. My struggle comes from knowing that I am among the last few generations that survived high school WITHOUT Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, and the like. The only things that we had were MySpace and Xanga.
MySpace was an old, haggard man who hadn’t had a job in years and just needed a few friends. It was so poorly laid out that if you were unlucky enough to have one, there was no way that you would ever be able to figure out how to actually use it effectively. In fact, I went back to find my MySpace, and it was an eerie experience; we were all trapped in time, forever frozen on our profile photos and top 8’s from when we were young, right where we left our forsaken MySpace accounts to go and pursue bigger and better dreams (Facebook).
Xanga, on the other hand, was sort of like your angst-y little sister who wanted you to write down all of your feelings so that she could use them against you later by reading your diary out loud at the dinner table. However, it was a HTML programming dream. I could make my background ANY color I wanted, as long as I knew the 6-digit code that was preceded by an octothorpe (a hashtag for anyone under the age of 28) and gave you any color from the color wheel (that you’d have to look up) that you could possibly want! Easy-ish to use, Xanga functioned as a diary of sorts, where you would post, and others would comment or like your post. This was the first experience that I had with people saying mean things about me that weren’t to my face, but also not behind my back. Cue hateful social media!
Facebook enters the scene with a smug look on his face and a long jacket, concealing all that he had to offer, but all at a price. You’d need to be in college (and more importantly, have a college email address) to get the goods from this thrifty and attractive young gent. And so I waited and waited until finally, I was only a few MONTHS from graduating high school and getting my ticket to a better life and then Facebook opened up… to everyone.
Now, was I mad? No. Absolutely not. I could get a jump start on climbing to the pinnacle of social media and figure out how to use the dang thing. If it was anything like MySpace, I was out. But MySpace was a ragged deal compared to this shiny new toy with all its buttons (Like, Friend, and Poke – which was never cool) and all of its communicating capabilities (at that time, Notes, Comments, and that was all). It was social media heaven, and I didn’t even have to program my background! But there was only one problem; it was open to everyone.
Social Media Now
Cut to 2017 – there are children all over the world who are anywhere from 10 to 18 using social media, but not to wield it like a precious heirloom handed down from generation to generation. No. They’re swinging that stupid weapon around in the air thinking they’ve got a clue what they’re doing, and they’re slicing people up left and right. (Children are not the only ones, but for the sake of this post – and out of respect for your time – I will not go into how several adults are using this weapon even more destructively than children.)
Sharing videos that promote hate.
Cyber-bullying other kids, even when they don’t know them personally, and telling them that their idea/photo/life is stupid. (There is no difference to these kids in their minds between real life an what they post on social media, because they post everything that happens to them in their every day life.)
Commenting “KYS” on kids contributions on social media that they don’t like. (ATTENTION ADULT WORLD: Kids say that KYS is an abbreviation of “Kill Yourself”… but don’t really kill yourself. It’s supposed to mean “stop saying stupid things”, essentially. But if a kid already feels stupid and feels like the world would be a better place if he was dead, KYS isn’t a good way to talk him OUT of committing suicide. Also – “yourself” is one word… #English)
Modeling what a adults do on social media by posting that “Donald Trump is an idiot” or “Hillary Clinton can go to Hell” – and we’ve got to stop it.
Social Media Smart Parents
The problem is that we’ve put a sword in the hands of babes, and expected them to not hurt people in the process. Not every child/student who is on social media is trying to ruin the lives of others, but most often, if they’re not bullying, they are being bullied in some form or fashion.
I used to be so quick to say “When I was a kid, other kids were mean to me, but I just got over it and these kids should too” but I’ve found through repeated exposure to this generation who has not ever lived without it, that cyber bullying is a problem. And not only for the “bad” and “mean” kids.
When I was in college and Facebook has started to use apps as a way to bring other organizations on board, there was an app called “Honesty Box”. Now, Honesty Box was only available to be used by people who were your friend (you had both consented to be “friends” on Facebook) and they could comment things about you, to you, without revealing their name. The first couple of weeks were fantastic. Nice things were coming from all sorts of different people, but all anonymously. I’m sure that you’re already expecting where this ends, but around the third week of having Honesty Box attached to my profile, I received a message that to this day rings loudly in my mind. “You are arrogant and you only sing to get attention” were the most mild comments to me. Music was my declared major, so singing for attention was quite an insult. I loved singing, but now reconsidered if I should do it at all. And arrogant? I mean, we’ve all struggled with pride, but when you use the “a-word”, things feel more personal. More hurtful. And I was an adult at a Christian college, surrounded by adults who were also attending a Christian college, and who were all my friends on Facebook.
I deleted Honesty Box from my profile and tried to forget the hurtful things that a faceless, nameless, entity had sent me, but it’s been nearly 10 years, and I am not sure I’ll ever forget. Likes carry less weight than hatred.
If you want to be a “social media smart” parent, I have a few tips for you.
- Get Social Media. If you do not have social media and don’t know how it works, how will you know how to keep your children safe and friendly on social media? You need to educate yourself, but reading articles won’t do it justice. Even if you don’t want to post and comment, getting a Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or the like is the best way to know what you want your kids to be exposed to.
- Only allow your child to get it when YOU are ready. If you’re not ready for your child to be exposed to the world of memes and Saturday Night Live and bad lip readings of political debates, don’t let them be. You are the parents, and while children should have freedom when they are “of-age” – 18 years old in my opinion – you are responsible for making sure that they experience things when you deem it the right time. Yes, they may fight you and say “I am not cool unless I have a Facebook, Instagram, Cell Phone, etc.” but they will survive.
- Make the lack of social media a rite of passage to look forward to, not a punishment to resent. We are missing a vital part of what most other cultures have, and that is rites of passage. If you explain to your child that social media is a rite of passage, a gift for coming of a certain age instead of a punishment, they will appreciate it more and treat it more like a gift.
- Go on social media fasts as a family. If your kiddos already have social media, make it a priority to fast from social media as a family, and do something else to fill up that time. Social media is the breakdown of real relationships as we know it, so it’s important to teach them “everything in moderation” at an early age.
What are some other things you would suggest for parents heading into this stage? Leave your comments below.