I remember the first time I heard about someone getting busted for skipping work when they called in “sick” because their boss saw their pictures from a drunken outing on MySpace. Then there were cases where kids had let friends take revealing pictures of themselves and those pictures were emailed out to their entire school. Of course, there’s always the token American Idol contestant who ends up having people from their past pop up with incriminating photos of things they’ve done in their less-famous years.
Since that first time I heard of such a thing I thought two things: 1) Thank all that is holy that there was no digital photography when I was a teenager, and 2) Oh, crap. This could totally happen to my kids. Especially E, my teenager who is in high school and on Facebook with every single one of his friends.
Here’s the thing I’m realizing: E’s generation — kids that are in high school and college right now — are the guinea pigs for coming-of-age in the social networks. They are learning the hard way what should and should NOT be posted to their Tumblr, Facebook, or Twitter accounts. Hopefully kids in elementary school now will have heard all of the horror stories by the time they get on Facebook and will be scared to post anything online. But E’s generation hasn’t yet been beaten senseless with scary stories of others’ mistakes. Instead? They’re making the mistakes for the younger ones to fear.
If you want to do something stupid and foolish in a moment of bad teenage judgment — GO FOR IT. We all did it. It happens. Just do not — UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES — let anyone photograph you doing it. And in regards to saying/doing things that aren’t that incriminating, you still have to keep in mind you are representing YOURSELF. I do not use a lot of foul language, it’s just not my thing. But, it’s fine if E choose to. I don’t care. I just always tell him to recognize who is around when he is saying/doing stuff. If no one is recording you in video or photo then you just need to be aware of who is in your proximity at that moment. But if you’re caught on camera? You have a lot of other people to consider. Teachers, grandparents, neighbors, and future bosses/school admissions counselors.
Basically, this is how I’ve broken it down to him: Rules To Please Live By:
Don’t ever let anyone document something you’re doing (picture/video) if you would NOT be comfortable with your grandmother seeing it.
I mean, all kids at some point hope to be famous, right? E would love to be an author, or on stage somewhere. I point out that the second that dream comes true, it could be ruined if someone from his past pops up with a picture of him [insert random stupid thing we all did as teenagers here] and posts it all over the internet. And then, on a more realistic scale — what about your significant other’s family stumbling upon that picture? Or a future boss or admissions counselor? And then — always be wary — because inevitably? Your grandmother might one day see it. What would SHE say?
Know your audience.
Making perverted jokes around your friends at school — who cares? Making the same jokes in your sister’s pre-K classroom? Not cool. While those are two extremes, there are plenty of situations in between to consider. This is not about possibly offending some stranger with your language — this is about just being a respectful citizen of this planet. Don’t change yourself or who you believe, just be aware of who is around you.
I had absolutely zero awareness of the cause/effect of my actions when I was a teen. I did so many things I’m not proud of and I’m pretty positive I would have still done them, even if I was being photographed and filmed. I was an idiot. So, god forbid, if any of my kids do something stupid that ends up all over the internet… part of me will just sigh and think about how I probably would have done the same thing. But I’m going to make sure I’ve at least repeated those two rules above enough to them that I can VERY LOUDLY and VERY CLEARLY say, “I TOLD YOU SO.” And I promise you I’ll say it at least 1000 times.