They are teenagers.
I’d like to start with this: I think teenagers are the best. Truth be told I almost unilaterally like people but teenagers in particular. They do the coolest things and they are pretty much just, not completely formed masses of potential. But then shit like this pops up my facebook (6 people posted this, 6 people I like a lot):
The basic premise is: There are four apps out there that teens are doing the worst things ever on. Things like bullying, sexting*, and asking anonymous questions. For Shame! Damn you cell phone! You are ruining the chiddlins!
Here’s the thing though, of course they are. Of course they are bullying on their cell phones because they bully in real life. Yes, I understand the internet creates a platform that allows bullying to happen in an easier non face-to-face way but teenagers bully. It happens. This is obviously not the answer parents want to hear. Parents/ Adults want to hear that if they delete these four apps that your child will be perfect and no more bullying will happen ever.
And sexting**? Teenagers have sex! Although less of them than in the past (this video is great go watch it now). Teenagers also watch Game of Thrones, Girls, and pretty much anything that you watch because well, access. If you can get it off the internet so can they.
I can’t even talk about anonymous questions except to say, Seriously? This scares you? Are you also afraid of feet?
Okay, so, now that I have ranted here’s the real piece of this. A very small part of my job is educating teens on internet safety and digital footprint and from that I have some small pieces of advice that are based entirely around personal experience.
- Education has to be developmentally appropriate. Telling 8th graders that what they put on the internet will effect their chances of getting into college is dumb. They don’t have context for that. I also believe this is true for 10th graders, they don’t really understand consequences 2 years out. Heck, sometimes I don’t. Talk to them about their friends. Talk about what it feels like to read stuff about themselves. Talk to them about vagueness and tone. And the question I like the best, ask them if they read their own stuff if they’d want to be their friend.
- This needs to happen outside the home, too. Find out what your school is doing in terms of digital citizenship. Ask if your school has anti-bullying rules and how they extend to the internet. Ask if your school or district or local library has adult education on this. If you don’t feel like you know enough to talk to your kid about this then educate yourself. The easiest way to do that is to ask your kid. What apps do you use? What the heck is snapchat?
- Talk to your kid everyday. Maybe we move beyond, “how was your day?”. Maybe it’s time to start asking, “What’s happening on tumblr?” “Did you get funny snapchats today?” “Do you use that secret sharing app?” Yea, I think these questions sound awkward, too. Cause they are. Cause we’re all just gonna have to get in to the place of awkward and be okay with it.
I was most frustrated by the article linked above because it plays on fear. Fear that teenagers are doing all the terrible things we think they are and fear that we don’t understand them. The best way to quell this fear is to talk to them. As your mother probably said, “Use your words.”
Final note: This is written by someone who has no teen children and also has 324 teen children. So take from it what you will. Just remember the medium itself is not evil it’s all in how we use it.*Can we just take a minute and appreciate that my spell check thinks sexting is a word. I love the world. ** I really can’t get over that this is a word.