Parenting a teen in the shadow of Facebook

Guest post by Kim
By: N i c o l aCC BY 2.0

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.

Comments on Parenting a teen in the shadow of Facebook

  1. my little sister has me thinking and worrying about this all the time! every once in a while i have to wonder if she remembers who is on her facebook friends list…

  2. I am going to share this article with my 12 yr old daughter. We talk all of the time about the immediacy of the tech world. Thanks for writing it better than I could say it.

  3. Hah… I certainly wish that my stupid teenage self had had more sense than to photograph my antics. Hopefully my poor grandmother never has to see them 😛

  4. I’ve been thinking about this a LOT. I’m on the old edge of this wave. Facebook expanded beyond the Ivys the same year I graduated college, so a lot of my figuring out how to be a grown up (in New Orleans of all places) is on there. But – so is everyone else’s. And these folks are now moving into all sorts of leadership positions and having babies and all the rest. I’m wondering about how all this is going to shift our acceptance of the fact that people 1) are multifaceted and 2) change and grow all the damn time. I don’t know how long it’ll take, but I have a feeling that a time will come when such pictures are treated matter-of-factly rather than as incriminating evidence.

  5. I always joke that no one is going to be able to run for president in 10 years! lol but seriously I have always lived by my moms advice, “Do not write anything down, you would not yell from the roof tops.”.

  6. I like the “If you couldn’t tell your Mum about it, then don’t tell the world” idea- but it doesn’t work for me cos my Mum is so much less prissy than me!

  7. I recently discovered my 15 year-old cousin’s solution to some of the problems caused by Facebook (with regards to having your mum and your friends communicating with you on the same site, and trying to keep both sides of yourself separate) and was suitably impressed; 2 Facebook accounts.
    One with her full name “Rebekah”, and one with a nickname, “Bekah.”

    The Rebekah account is the “clean” one, no swearing, no sex jokes, no references activities her mother wouldn’t approve of, no incriminating pictures etc. That’s the one she lets her parents, parents’ friends, family etc. see.

    The Bekah account is secret, and she primarily uses it to connect with her friends (and me, because I’m “cool about stuff”, apparently).
    That’s the one that gets tagged with the incriminating pictures, and the incriminating comments.

    Sure, the pictures are still out there, but at least they’re not associated with her real name. So should a potential employer one day Google her, they’ll hit the nice, squeaky clean, good girl Facebook page first.

    • Seperate accounts may be useful, but what if she (accidentally) gets friended by the same person for both accounts, or if her and her friends privacy settings are not very exlusive? Unless there are no images of her in the “clean” account, then it would be easy to identify her as the owner of both.

  8. One of the things Facebook doesn’t allow for is varying levels of intimacy. There are many things I’m not embarrassed about doing–having sex, getting drunk occasionally, swearing, wearing a bikini, etc.–that I don’t want my grandmother, boss, IRS auditor or students to see me doing. As my mother always told me, there’s a time and a place for everything, and this is not the time or the place.

    My advice about Facebook is similar to yours: consider your audience. When you write a status update, you are not speaking privately; you are writing to an audience as much as when you write a letter or a newspaper article. What does your audience know? What do they need to know? I think keeping this in mind will prevent embarrassment and a lot of boring Facebook updates. 🙂

    • I think Facebook does allow variation on levels of intimacy. You’ll have to do some work, but you can achieve it. I have divided all my friends in lists and set varying levels of privacy for those lists. So I have a list of colleagues,one for (close) friends, one for family, one for random people. They see different things when they look at my profile and pictures (thoug, I am not sure, maybe they can see all my pictures, but I’m sure on the status updates). And I do consider my audience… 🙂

  9. I sit down with my terrific almost-15 year old and make him explain to me how he knows everyone on his friend list. I don’t want to be too fascist about it but on occasion I’ve requested that he defriend people who he barely knows and who are updating inappropriately for a kid his age.

    I don’t think he’s smart enough to have a secret account.

  10. In the UK, what students put on facebook is taken very seriously. My 14 year old cousin was expelled from school because she had joined a facebook group which was called ‘We Hate Mr. [insert teacher’s name here] Group’. This was determined to be cyberbulling by the school officials. In the end it worked out and she was able to return to school, but something this could have had serious consequences for her and the other students if they hadn’t been allowed back at school. Also youtube videos created by students of themselves are a huge problem due to bullying comments left by other students at her school. It’s such a minefield I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in highschool right now and to have my life be so public!

  11. I am a high school teacher, and I can tell you that Facebook has had an enormously negative impact on kids’ social skills and their ability to interact with their peers. They get so used to posting something on someone’s wall instead of saying it to them (and you can be SO brave from your bedroom) that they don’t know how to appropriately communicate face-to-face anymore. We have so, so many incidents of bullying and harassment that start over the computer and then bleed over into school.

  12. This a great article that highlights the ability of kids to still be awesome without them posting jackass pictures of them doing it. Cheers.

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