Wow, it has been a long time since I last blogged. My apologies, but I felt compelled to write after attending an informative and enlightening book group discussion sponsored by my daughter’s school.
I think it’s great that our school takes the time to organize Parent Coffees and Book Group Discussions at Barnes and Noble (with a Starbucks, of course!) I love that our school cares about its students AND its parents.
The book up for discussion was It’s Complicated…the social lives of networked teens by Danah Boyd. I’ve got to be honest…I didn’t read the book (bow head in shame) so I really can’t critique it. I heard it is research-based, and not really written by or for parents. I was expecting to learn from the book, but instead learned from the other women in the room.
About 25 moms showed up – all of us worried that our kids are addicted to social media, that they are missing out on life experiences and relationships because they’re always on their phones. And mostly, as parents of freshman through to seniors, we’re worried they are going to royally screw up on social media, and that it could hurt their chances for success in the future. (We’ll get to the beer and bikini pictures later).
The general consensus among moms was that girls are more involved in social media than boys but, don’t be fooled, those boys are still “on-line” just as much. Instead, they are spending their time gaming on X-box and Minecraft with opponents across the country or even around the world.
Our teens are using social media to socialize…the same way we used to hang out at the local convenience store, mall or roller rink (am I dating myself?) Their phones ARE their playgrounds. And, whose fault is that? As parents, we may be contributing to the problem. With our teens so busy and over-scheduled, who has time to go to the park and just hang out anymore? One mom suggested that if a group of 10-15 teens did try to hang out at the mall on a Friday night, they’d probably be questioned by security!! Perhaps, in our quest to raise great children, all the tutoring and private lessons are taking away from time to socialize in person.
We also agreed our teens don’t seem to understand the permanence of what they do on-line. Once you say something mean or nasty, it doesn’t go away…even if you’ve deleted it. It can always be found. The picture of you at the party, with the bottle of beer in the background, has now hurt your reputation. Sure, maybe you weren’t drinking it, and no you didn’t post the picture, but your friend tagged you in it, so now everybody can see it’s you! It may be wrong, but your kid may very well be judged or miss out on an opportunity, because of how they’ve appeared in a photo. Ditto for bikini shots – some moms just thought it was totally inappropriate for their daughters to be posting pictures of themselves in bikinis on their profiles.
As part of the College admissions process, one mom said her teen was asked for passwords to his Facebook and Instagram accounts. Really? But I don’t believe they really even need passwords. If your teen’s privacy settings are not secure, then complete strangers can still see some of their photos, posts, groups they like, etc. We also heard that some admissions personnel are trying to “friend” potential college students to get a look at their profiles. Right or wrong, its seems your teen’s Facebook or Instagram account may now be considered part of their resume!
Another theme that emerged is the FOMO syndrome – The Fear Of Missing Out . Why do our kids seem to think that what everybody else is doing is so much better, so much more exciting and somehow more valuable than what they are doing? Why do they think their lives are so boring? My daughter sees Instagram pictures of her friend’s trip to Paris, and now suddenly we must go to Paris too? Puh-lease!!
Like Instagram, apps such as Snap Chat are based on pictures and limited text. The idea that they disappear after 24 hours is false, because anyone can screen shot your Snap Chat and off it goes by text, email or another social media site onto the internet. Case in point: the 24-year-old Texas high school teacher and cheerleading coach who got fired and is now charged after snap chatting a nude picture of herself to a male student, which he then distributed to his friends.
Everyone in attendance agreed the anonymous types of sites, like Yik Yak and ASK FM, are bad news. If you can’t attach your name to it, then is it really worth the question or comment in the first place?
I’m personally annoyed by the obsession with “Likes”. Apparently, a picture isn’t worth posting unless it gets a certain amount of “likes”. Seeing your daughter’s self-confidence plummet because her picture didn’t get as many likes as she expected, is really heart-breaking. I worry that living their lives for “selfies” and “likes” often means they aren’t present in the moment, and may be missing out on real human connection or the beauty of where they are at that moment. It’s also just really silly to always be seeking the approval of others.
The good news about the book group discussion is that I wasn’t surprised or shocked by another new social media tool that I hadn’t heard of. I try hard to stay current with my kids (I still haven’t mastered Snap Chat). But I did learn about the Tinder match-making app the other day… which uses your Facebook profile and GPS technology to allow you to “hook up” with someone in your geographic radius. Thankfully, I believe we are still far away from tinkering with Tinder.
It was also just really good to hear from other people with the same concerns. No one has the right answer; but at least we’re talking. It takes a village, right?
I hope all of this doesn’t sound too negative…there are some really good things about they way our kids use social media. One mom, worried about her son who is new to our school, finds solace in the fact that he is still able to carry on a year-long 3-continent Minecraft game with his best friends. She is puzzled that since re-locating from another country, he is not mourning the loss of the friendships as you’d expect, but is instead using social media to keep the friendships going. Others thought that social media allowed teens to build stronger, more intimate friendships. Saying things over text removes the “awkward” factor for some teens.
Our kids are going to mess up…we know that. It’s all part of growing up. But our kids are doing it so publicly these days. Just think about all of the things you did when you were young. Now imagine, if someone had taken pictures of you and blasted it all over the internet. Scary, huh? It really all comes down to common sense and communication. We need to sit down with our teens AND tweens and talk about it, because it isn’t going away. With one daughter in high school and another just about to get her first phone, there is no time like the present.