Are your teens suffering from the FOMO Syndrome, the quest for “likes” and other social media pitfalls?

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.

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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.

 

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We Don’t Live in Walnut Grove Anymore {The Social Media Generation}

If I talk to you about social media, what do you instantly think of? Facebook? Twitter?

I’m guessing most of you think of Facebook exclusively when it comes to your kids. But you would be wrong. In fact, a lot of kids are leaving Facebook and checking out SnapChat and in rapidly increasing numbers, Instagram.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I would like you to read this article from Hollee Actman Becker. She has absolutely nailed it when it comes to Instagram and our kids- especially tweens and teens.  Do You Think You’re Smarter than Your Fifth Grader? 

 

Did you read it?? Go. Now. Read it. The rest of this isn’t going to make sense unless you read it and I’m not dictating it for you. Go. 

 

Okay, so, now that you’re panic-stricken and mortified, let’s talk about this.

 

Unless you plan on moving to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee or the back woods of the Boreal Forest in Northern Saskatchewan, social media is not going away and it’s now a part of your life, like it or not.  Sure, you can ban your kids from ever touching a computer or cell phone. You can take away their iTouch and their iPads.  You can turn off the wi-fi in your house at 8 pm  and you can hold their hand through life.  OR you could talk to them and teach them about the proper use of social media.

Last week I got an iPhone after much prodding and peer pressure from my 18 year old son. Oh , he’s quite the salesman I tell ya. What got me convinced is the inter-connectivity between my two oldest who have iPhones, my husband and his iPad(he has since upgraded to an iPhone too) and my two younger daughters who each have an iTouch. If you’re not familiar, an iTouch is a glorified iPod which you might think is just for listening to music and watching videos but it actually has all the capabilities of an iPhone without being a phone. So anywhere there is a wifi connection, the holder of an iTouch is able to be on the internet, add apps like any iPhone user would and it also has a camera/video camera.  Very cool but for kids, definitely needs monitoring.   Now, I know my girls have been using Instagram for the past few months. Many of my friends also share  their instagram photos on Facebook and Twitter and I have to admit, I was a little sad when I learned that you have to have an Apple product to use that particular app. I have looked at my girls’ photos and I realized a couple of months ago that there is a lot more going on on Instagram than what I had previously thought. I too, thought it was simply a photo sharing application but with the ability to follow and comment, I realized it really is just another social media outlet.

Our rules on Facebook are as follows:

  • If you’re going to be on Facebook, you must have your parents as friends or you can’t have an account. (They have all figured out that they can customize statuses and posts to exclude us because we were “so annoying” commenting on things.)
  • At any time I can look at their friend list and suggest/demand deletion. We have had to do this a few times particularly with some “friends” who they don’t know well or who have potty-mouths and regularly post offensive comments, statuses or links.
  • At any time I can go into their inbox to see who they’re chatting with and what they’re chatting about.  I did this a lot in the early days and the threat of it now has kept everyone behaving(I think).  I do believe our teens need a certain level of anonymity and privacy. I had diaries and there were some things I wanted to vent about that I would never want my mom to hear or read. Growing up is a working through of emotions and thoughts and it’s okay for our kids to have someplace to do that. But I caution my girls that everything they type can be cut, pasted, shared, taken out of context for all the world to see so tread carefully.
  • Absolutely no bashing friends, acquaintances, family or teachers on Facebook or any other social media. I will not put up with cyber-bullying  or openly slandering another person.
  • Facebook is a privilege, not a right. At any moment it can be gone. And we have suspended accounts for several months at a time. Parents, be parents. Consequences for inappropriate behaviour must be followed through.
  • Anyone who you “friend” on Facebook must be someone you know personally, have an in-person relationship with and who is someone that you would not hesitate to have over in our home for dinner or sitting in our living room with the whole family.  If any one of these criteria does not line up then you cannot be friends on Facebook.  Facebook is an extension of our home and your life. It is a virtual living room. Therefore, we regularly check friend lists and purge as necessary. If someone is a FB stalker(they’re on but you never hear from them) then they’re gone.  If someone takes things you post and shares them with others not on your friend list or not on FB, they’re gone.  If someone makes any one of your friends feel uncomfortable or is chatting privately with you about what someone else said or posted, they’re gone.

This is not an exclusive rule list and it’s always changing. Social media has changed a ton in the six years that I have been on. An open dialogue is essential with your kids. Use it as a teaching tool. Someday your kids will be on their own and they need to have a good foundation for what is acceptable on the internet and what is not.  If you don’t teach them, they’ll learn on their own or from someone else. This is why, for the life of me, I cannot understand some parents who are NOT on Facebook but allow their children to be. You cannot monitor that which you do not see. And you cannot see that which you do not understand or where you are not present. Be present in your child’s life~everywhere.

 

So, back to Instagram. We had an episode a month ago. Potentially a scary episode. My youngest(who will be 13 next week) was having problems and I knew that but she wasn’t sharing much. I will not give all the details but I received a phone call from her friend’s mom on a Saturday morning. She was worried about my daughter because she read an inbox message from her, to her daughter. The word suicide came up. I was alarmed but I was more curious. I took my daughter out on a shopping trip and lunch. We talked about school and friends and all kinds of things. She didn’t give me any indication of a problem and her marks have been good. I had to tell her about the call and she immediately burst into tears. Instagram. Instagram had made her feel awkward and uncomfortable and vulnerable. Even though she didn’t say those words, that’s what it was.  A boy at youth group had liked a photo of her on instagram and her friends had blown it up into a big deal. Why? Because when you “like” something on Instagram it pops up as a heart. So here was her picture with a heart and this boy’s name.  It’s one of those moments in grade 7 when you are SO EMBARRASSED you just want to die.  You know what I mean , moms? You want to die. And that’s what this innocent little  inbox message had said.

When I was in grade 7 and I liked a boy, I didn’t tell anyone. It was my secret with myself. I told my daughter that as much as she loves her friends and they love her, teasing will always happen to the extent where you want to crawl into a hole and never come out. That’s why diaries are great. And that’s why, when I was in grade 7, I could run home, close the bedroom door, cry into my pillow and stress for a day and a night and by the next morning the girls were teasing someone else at school and the boys were just being boys.

Here’s the thing parents, we don’t live in Walnut Grove anymore(did you have to Google that to figure out what I meant?).  Nelly is still on the playground, but she’s carrying an iPhone and she’s using everything your little Laura says and does against her. She’s video taping and photographing and texting.  Albert and Willie have phones now too.  And they don’t mean any harm but they get caught up in the moment.  So what are you going to tell your Laura, your Mary, your Carrie?  What do you do? Do you pack them up in the wagon? Do you tell Pa to get his shotgun and show those kids who’s boss?

Nellie Olson still exists ~she just has an iPhone now.

No.  We live in 2013 and computers and cell phones and social media are a part of our lives. We have to teach our kids to protect themselves. We have to show them how to be friends but how to still keep their private life private. We need to be their safe place and their fountain of knowledge. But we can’t do that if we don’t know what they’re talking about. We can’t help them if we don’t even understand what “tbh” and “lms” mean. It’s time to get with the program.  Be a parent and be there for our kids.

Needless to say, we ‘ve adjusted privacy settings on Instagram for the girls. And now that I’m on, I can see what’s being posted and what’s being said. 95% of it is innocent. But the conversation is an open and evolving one. I’m not going to be the mom who says, “I didn’t know” .