A Letter To My Future Teenage Daughters Re: Social Media -Or- Oo Baby, It’s A Wild Cyber-World
I noticed a post on Facebook this morning whilst wiping the coffee from my keyboard. It was by an actor friend of mine, Eugene Glazer. We worked together a million and eight years ago on the Warner Brothers TV series “La Femme NIKITA”. He was going on about all the inaccuracies , lies and fabrications that inundate the Internet daily. Many of the points he made were in sync with my own opinions about the world wide web. It lit what’s left of the synapses in my brain and really got me thinking of how best to prepare my girls for their journey on the information highway and SOCIAL MEDIA (spoken with that deep echoing foreboding voice).
As I type this article, my girls are 5 and 7 years-old. My biggest concern for them right now is getting them to brush their teeth and what to put in their lunches that won’t return home at the end of the day. Currently, their only exposure to the Internet is limited to videos on YouTube featuring people taking toys from their packaging. That’s it. Taking toys from their packaging. These people have millions of hits and are making millions of dollars opening things on camera. WTF?? I can do that!
Anyhoo, I suppose I’m somewhat of an expert in social media considering all the lectures I’ve attended and courses I’ve taken and the fact I teach this stuff to kids full-time in my day job. I thought I might pass along some friendly, fatherly advice to them to mull over when they hit those challenging teenage years. So, here it goes…
Hey girls! Dad again. Sorry to take you away from doing each others hair, talking about boys, and making microwave s’mores (or so is my understanding of the lives of teenage girls). You’re 5 and 7 years-old as I WRITE this but you’re most likely teenagers as you READ this. I know it’s a lot for your teenage brains to process but it goes to show that communication across time and space IS possible!! Cool, eh?
I wanted to talk to you about the Internet and more importantly Social Media. Now, I don’t know what social media is like in your time but right now it’s the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems. There really are no rules in place. ANYTHING goes. But that doesn’t mean it can’t get you into a heap of trouble. Hopefully I can help you steer clear of that.
Right out of the gate, the BEST bit of advice I can give you, and if you walk away having taken only ONE thing from this letter it’s this – DON’T LET HOW MANY “LIKES” YOU GET ON A POST, OR HOW MANY FOLLOWERS YOU HAVE, DEFINE WHO YOU ARE!! Some wonderful people out there get very little attention on social media while some terrible role models get tons. Regardless of how many likes or followers you have, YOU MATTER!! Put ZERO thought into what people think of you ON or OFF the Internet!
Anyone can be whomever they want on the Web. Be careful with this. Ask yourself, “What kind of digital footprint will I leave?” And be aware that your future schools and employers will ask you which social media platforms you use. They do that now in my time. Be prepared for them to delve deeply into your cyber-life. What will they find? Photos of you accepting an award for charity work in the community or will they see the picture your friends took of you hanging upside down drinking from a funnel in some beach in Cuba? I’m sure it’ll be the former. It better be the former!!!
Please, don’t be a part of social media drama. And certainly don’t put yourselves in a position where you’re the subject of it. Bullying someone online, or face to face, can be illegal, depending on the situation. Once you have told someone to leave you alone and they continue to hound you, they’ve crossed the line into criminal harassment. This is where a lot of teens are getting into trouble. But with teenage know-it-allism comes the incorrect assumption that they’ll never be caught. And if you’re a witness to the cyberbullying, put a stop to it or at least report it! You have to remember that when it comes to cyberbullying, there’s a victim. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to deal with a group of teens who got carried away on social media ganging up on one or two hapless victims. It shouldn’t happen but it does.
Social media, when used responsibly is a fantastic vehicle to get your opinion across to the masses. But rather than talk derogatorily about other people, use it to inspire, not discourage – to motivate, not weaken.
Be mindful that EVERYONE is battling their own demons in one form or another. You don’t know their story. If ever you see a person being bullied online or in the real world, throw them a smile sometime or say good morning to them. You might not realize what an act of kindness can do for a person who is struggling. Even the smallest act of kindness can have the largest impact on a person who is being bullied. And don’t accept it when people say, “oh, it’s just a phase kids go through”, or “it happens to all of us”. This is complete and utter bullshit (yes, daddy swears). Bullying lives on because many grown ups have taken this attitude. Even in our infinite wisdom adults can be horrible role models. Just stick to all the above and you’ll be fine.
Be careful with the information you give away on the Internet. SHUT OFF your location services to your phone’s camera. You can pass on your geographic location (Geo-Tag) and other sensitive data which anyone can get a hold of after you’ve uploaded your photo to the Internet.
Look to the future. There’ll come a time when you’ll have children of your own. The way WAY distant future!!! They’ll more than likely “Google” you and what will they find?? Just remember, once they’ve uncovered questionable photos of you, you risk losing your credibility. Credibility is EVERYTHING in this world. Without it you’re going to have a VERY difficult time getting others to trust you.
The problem with teenagers in my time (as I write this) is that they take too much of what they read/see on the Internet as the gospel truth. It’s not. It’s 1% of a story. Many new sites will race to be the first to put out a story even with what little information they have. If they’re wrong, they simply apologize a few days later and think that’s OK. It’s not.
Lastly, please take everything you find on the Internet with a grain of salt. It’s a place inundated with misinformation, falsities, fabrications and flat out lies. . NEVER take anything you find on the Internet at face value. Even if it’s coming from a reputable news site… question it! Question everything! Seek multiple sources and then make your own best judgement. And remember not to be too quick to buy into videos recorded by “witnesses” at the scene – particularly incidents involving police. Most of those videos are edited or out of context. You don’t know what happened in the moments BEFORE the person hit the record button.
I already know, as I sit here watching the two of you playing with Disney clip dolls on the living room floor, that we won’t always see eye to eye, and that’s OK. I can only give you all the above advice based on experience. I know you didn’t ask my advice and for the most part you’ll want to be left to your own methods, and that’s fine. But as I’ve told you probably a million times by the time you read this, it’s my job to watch out for you both. Sometimes I’m your friend but I’m ALWAYS your father. And that’s what dads do.
Your s’mores are done!