By Chris Chandler, MA, LMHC, Bellevue Christian Counseling
We live in the world of social media. Many of our interactions happen behind a computer or cell phone screen. We write Facebook statuses, we send out tweets, we share photos through Instagram, and talk to the universe through YouTube videos.
And why is social media so appealing? Because it provides an opportunity to be noticed. Maybe my tweet will be retweeted hundreds of times, maybe even thousands of times. People will know who I am! Maybe my YouTube video will be shared and go viral. Maybe my Facebook status will be so witty that I will get hundreds of “likes.”
And it is natural, this desire to be noticed.
Teenagers have an especially hard time drawing the line between what is appropriate to share in social media. They are more likely to be impulsive and just “go for it.” The pressure to succeed, to be popular, to “stand out” is stressful and demanding. Unfortunately, there are serious consequences for impulsivity or carelessness on social media.
As a parent, it is important that you talk to your kids about social media the same way you would talk to them about drinking, sex, and drugs.
When you talk to your kids, stress the following:
- Once a picture, a status, or a tweet is out in social media, it is completely out of their control. It can ruin their reputation, and future.
- Any form of sharing in social media can break the trust between parents and kids, or between friends. Is that picture, or are those words worth loosing the trust people have in you?
- Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your parents to see. If it is out in social media, it is not a secret. Using apps like snapchat to share pictures or videos does not mean after 10 seconds the picture or video is gone. Screenshots will keep those images around forever. Nothing, nothing is secret once it is out in social media.
- If you post something that you might regret and want to take back if it “got out” then don’t do it. Don’t post it. It will get out!
- Think about others. Is what you are saying or the pictures you are sending compromising someone else’s reputation or muddying their name? Fighting with a friend is not a “free card” to drag their name through the mud. Keep private things private, and remember you would not want anyone else sharing with the world about the times you mess up or make a mistake.
- Who will see your picture or your post? Is it just friends? Remember that when it comes to Facebook or Twitter, there are no “only friends.” Think about it, and think about how your words or images could be shared through social media. Just ask Lindsey Stone if she regrets sharing that photo on her private Facebook page that went viral without her intention. It was a joke; it was supposed to be funny. Instead, she lost her job and her reputation will follow her for a long, long time, as the young girl who disrespected the lives of the fallen soldiers that died for her freedom. That is quite the shame to carry with you.
- Don’t share personal information. Phone numbers, address, etc. That is off limits. You don’t know who can see your posts, and you don’t know if someone would try to harm you. Protect your safety and don’t share personal things.
Don’t talk to strangers or someone you don’t know. There are many predators out there, and they have figured out that social media is a great way to lure young people. If you get a friend request of someone you don’t know, even if you have several friends in common, don’t accept it. Strangers are strangers, in real life, and in social media.
Talk openly with your teen about guidelines. Make sure they are safe. Stress how important it is that they understand the implications of what they share as they are out there interacting with people across the social media world. If you are a parent and have difficulty talking with your teenager, a Christian counselor can help. They can work with you and your child to improve communication and to discuss issues that are difficult but important.
Images cc: Freedigitalphotos.net – Teenager touching like button by David Castillo Dominici and Businessman holding thumb up sign by FrameAngel