Parenting, Thing 1

The Social Network Generation: Trying To Parent A Teenager In The Shadow Of Facebook

My baby

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. Every where you turn in the last several years, someone’s poor judgment – documented digitally – comes back to haunt them.

Since that first time I heard of such a thing I thought 2 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. Kids in elementary school right now? Hopefully they’ll 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? They’ve not been beaten senseless yet with scary stories of other’s mistakes. Instead? They’re making the mistakes for the younger ones to fear.

Locally we had a mild story this week about kids being disciplined at a local high school for flipping the bird in a photo, a photo that (of course) ended up on Facebook. One of the girls even tried to remove it, but as many of us know, once it’s there? It’s hard to completely remove it. I’m quite connected to this story as it happened in my community and here’s the thing: I’m sure these students are not bad kids. Their parents are not bad parents. I do not care that someone flipped a bird and got caught doing it on camera. I don’t even care that it was obvious they were at school when they did it. I actually feel really sorry for the kids and hate they are having to deal with this fallout.

But – I will say this: I have no problem with the action the band director took in disciplining them. The band director said it best:

In his e-mail to the parents, Connell tells them that the Facebook incident was particularly upsetting because Cox and the other senior pictured, co-captains of the color guard, are in leadership roles.

“We have discussed many times with the leadership the fact that they are representing an organization at all times whether they are with that group or not,” Connell wrote.

This is something I really hope to teach E as a way of life. He is not in band, but I want him to know he is always representing himself. Especially while he’s having his picture taken. 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, just not my thing. But, if E chooses to? That’s fine. 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 being 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, PLEASE, PLEASE Live By

1) 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?

2) 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. If I’m surrounded by my bleeding heart liberal friends I have no problem openly mocking people who are against Gay Rights. But – if I’m around people I don’t know? I may be a little softer with my views. I make them known, but in a way that might encourage someone to discuss it, not just be offended. When it comes to things like saying the F-Word or flipping someone off? These things are offensive to a lot of people. Is it worth it to possibly upset the mother of the kids you babysit who saw the photo on Facebook? Or the minister who was behind you in line at the grocery store when you were ranting with foul language? If you really think about it and decide those words/actions are important to you – then go for it. Offend everyone – but just take a moment to think about it. Like I said before, if you’re not being recorded then your audience is just the people in your immediate surroundings. But if you are being photographed or filmed? Your audience could very well be everyone you know. Do you want them seeing you do that? Hearing you say that?

Ah - so youngNow…let me go back to one more point I made earlier: I AM SO GLAD THERE WERE NO DIGITAL CAMERAS WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER. Do you see that picture of me there? THAT GIRL WAS PROBABLY UP TO NO GOOD. That is one of the few pictures that exist of me, THANK GOD, and it had to be scanned to be made digital. Would I have scanned it if it were more incriminating? NO WAY. Does that mean I wasn’t doing anything incriminating? I HAVE NO IDEA. I don’t even remember that picture being taken. I don’t even know where I was and OVERALLS? REALLY? Jeezus, Kim.

I had absolutely zero awareness of the cause/effect of my actions. 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.

Because, really, that’s mostly what parenting teens is about. Covering your bases so when they eventually screw up, you can at least rub your rightness in their face.

8 thoughts on “The Social Network Generation: Trying To Parent A Teenager In The Shadow Of Facebook”

  1. You make some really good points, particularly about consideration. I was speaking with my youngest sister about a week ago, and she said something essentially to the effect of “well, this is who I am and I’m not changing it for you or anybody” – and that really wasn’t what I was asking her to do! Editing some of the things you say or moderating the way you behave in consideration of others is NOT the same as betraying yourself- it means maybe just THINKING for two seconds about how they might feel, and being respectful of that.
    Also, I am very glad that the social networking scene hadn’t really started in my high school years, as well, because I know that the bullying would have been 1000x worse, and they would’ve found so many more ways to humiliate me and try to drive me to suicide. (I still just don’t get it, don’t understand why people do things like that. I’m not still angry, please don’t think that, but it does make me sad.)

  2. I’m so glad my kids are (young) adults with a reasonable level of common sense. They ARE young enough, though, that social networking sites were around when they were E’s age.

    For years my daughter refused to let me be her “friend” on MySpace. She didn’t want mom seeing who her friends were or what they were saying, etc. She claimed the kids used a program that could tell who had viewed their page, and might be “creeped out” by her mom viewing their pages. I tried to explain to her that if any creep on the internet could see her page, then there was no harm (and possibly some good) in her mom being able to see it. After all, there’s such a thing as private messages, which only the sender and the recipient can see. Deaf ears. She had to grow up first.

    What I find a little scary is that no matter how diligent you are instilling these messages in your own kids, pictures can be taken and posted by friends or friends-of-friends or even by people you don’t know who just happen to be at the same party/event/place you or your kids are. We can be careful about our OWN privacy and diligent about what we choose to share or not share, but that doesn’t prevent others from posting things we’d rather they didn’t.

    Which is kinda what you said already, but it bears repeating. 🙂

  3. I tried to use the grandma reasoning with my younger cousins a few years ago. Their response? “Have you met our grandma? I don’t think there’s anything we could do that’s worse than her own life experiences.” Haha, so true. But it’s still a good guiding principle for kids with more conservative grandparents.

  4. I actually think it might be the other way. There are so many cameras, so many moments, so many opportunities to have fleeting moments captured… that in a very few years (maybe quite soon) it will no longer raise the eyebrows of employers or inlaws because EVERYONE will have equally embarrassing records.

  5. I think those overalls are adorable on you! I’m waiting for that to come back in style… they were so comfortable. Maybe you could be the one to bring them back? 🙂

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