Teaching Teens to Use Social Media Responsibly

I read an interesting article in The Washington Post last week, that provided some statistical proof that teens are growing tired of certain social networks.  In “Why teens are leaving Facebook: It’s ‘meaningless’, author Nico Lang discusses the attrition rate in terms of platform design.  Facebook is not as appealing to teens (according to the article) because teens are bored with it, and find less value in sharing there, than they do on other social networks.   It’s not the first article to address the lack luster adoption rate (and strong abandonment rate) of certain networks by the next generation of social super users (it’s a big concern for advertisers), but what was insightful was the “why”, which has a lot to do with parental and family supervision. You guessed it.  Your children don’t want to be sharing where parents, aunts, uncles or older cousins (or siblings) can rat them out.

I think that most parents do a pretty good job of informing children of the perils of cyber stalking, bullying and how to browse networks in a safe way.   That’s a good thing and was slow coming, but it’s taught in elementary schools now, which is a relief to know.  Parents have enough evidence to motivate them and help them prepare tweens and pre-teens for navigating themselves safely on the internet of things. But where I think we are failing to prepare children is not how to stay safe, it is how to conduct yourself in a way that preserves your reputation as well.

The internet has a long, very long memory.  And it takes less than ten minutes of browsing to see tweens and teens making bad choices in the comments, photography and content that they share on social.  They prefer networks like SnapChat and Instagram because fewer parents use it on a daily basis (or use it at all frankly) than Facebook.  The networks that cater to younger mobile users are specifically attractive for that reason; kids aren’t going to get busted by mom and dad for a trout pout, or a picture that borders on sexual content.

The Celebrity Influence

Your kids have learned quite quickly from “role models” that have millions of followers on SnapChat, Instagram, WhatsApp and other networks.  Celebrity teens are paid for the influence, something that kids don’t always understand.  Kim Kardashian can be paid as much as $5,000 for a single tweet about a product she is “using”.  In between her product promotional placement for make-up, hair, fashion and accessories (including her own brand) we have pictures of “bits of Kim” that are deliberately aimed at creating a sensational social buzz.  It’s a business model that works for advertising, and one that most of her family shares.   They aren’t doing it because it is “fun”, they are doing it because they make money.

Other celebrities foster their own brand, rebellion … whatever you want to call it, by making a spectacle on social.  It also sells shirts, shoes and digital downloads of their latest single.  We live in a capitalistic world, and it’s part of the marketing machine, but children don’t really understand influencers. What they see is modeled, and when Kylie Jenner started posing in risque shots (before she was even a legal adult) a legion of girls worldwide surmised it was a great way to be famous. At least on Instagram.  I mean, who doesn’t want admirers? Or modeling contracts?  Or free makeup products?

Who doesn’t want to see great kids haunted by sexual, profane, racist or inappropriate content ten years from now, when they are trying to enter the workforce?  Me.

Tips to Govern Social Media Sharing

Parents who are concerned with helping their children navigate the mine field that is digital reputation management should have “the talk” with kids.  Help them understand how images, comments and posts are cached for many years and searchable.  How blog posts and trout pouts can be harmless, but some of the other stuff (if it must be shared) should be shared privately through instant messenger or through private groups.  Discuss privacy settings, and how to share with friends responsibly.  How to turn off geo-tags that report the location of your child and private residences.

Help them understand that well beyond their teen years, the content that they share in public can come back to haunt them. Whether for a job interview, or college and scholarship application, your content is evaluated for a variety of reasons, and your online reputation matters.

  • Never share racists, religious or profane comments in public.
  • Never share illegal acts, drugs, alcohol or other evidence of legal infractions.
  • Avoid tagging personal residences (for safety) in photos. Turn off geo-mapping.
  • Avoid sharing provocative or sexual content in public channels (you can suggest … never period).
  • Avoid sharing any fighting, violent acts or threats online.

Seems pretty straightforward right? To an adult, the idea of sharing any of this stuff should seem ridiculous, but every week we see it shared on social and cringe.  Whether from teens or adults, your reputation will be formulated in part, by what you share on social.   And it is a difficult, expensive process to remove and “scrub” content from a reputation management perspective (it can cost thousands to remove it completely, and sometimes its not possible to).  Discretion when sharing online is the best advice at any age, because social posts can come back to haunt you.

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