Social technologies have broken the barriers of space and time, enabling us to interact 24/7 with more people than before. Most people spend their time sending emails, chatting with friends, posting videos or pictures, to being informed of the latest events. Everything can be done through Facebook, and Twitter. New social networking sites pop up regularly, all accessible 24 hours a day via computer, tablet, smartphone, and internet-enabled devices.
Proponents of social media cheer on the benefits and possible advances to society. Online communities promote increased interaction with friends and family. It offers teachers, librarians and students valuable access to educational support and materials. It also facilitates social and political change; and disseminates useful information.
I do agree that social media has made great advances in society. But I also think it can have a negative effect on the brains and behavior of young people, if used irresponsibly. This was evident in the trial of two Steubenville, Ohio, high school athletes convicted of raping a 16 year old girl. The role of social media in this case was a double edged sword. Social media intensified the suffering of the victim because her assault was tweeted, posted, and videotaped. On the other hand, it provided a warehouse of evidence to the prosecution. Evidence in the trial included tweets, text messages, online photos and a Youtube video from the night of the assault, and the next day as participants and other teens rehashed the events.
The Steubenville case is one of many cases illustrating the dark side of social media. This case served as a wakeup call for me. As a mother I have to ask myself, what actions I am prepared to take to safeguard and educate my child on the dangers, and inappropriate use of social media. I think the biggest threat on the internet today is parents not being involved in their children’s use of technology.
I had to be honest with myself. I am one of those people who is not intuitive to the many nuances of technology. In fact, I was not interested in learning any new technology, as long as I was able to navigate the basics. My son is three years old and has a natural ability to navigate any smartphone or iPad. Today’s children are born and plunged into the addictive world of social media and technology. With the average preschooler being more able to play video games than ride a bike, or tie a shoe, it is increasingly important to create a culture of responsibility.
Therefore, am I promoting a culture of social responsibility by buying my child a smartphone, iPad or computer, which I cannot adequately use? Am I being a responsible parent without becoming actively involved, and engaged in guiding him on what is appropriate, and inappropriate in his future social media behavior? I decided that as a parent it is my responsibility to monitor his life on social media. Therefore, I needed to be tech savvy, and extremely vigilant.
Parents Social Responsibility
But, most important I think parents need to have the social media conversation. Which, I believe is similar to the sex conversation. The sex talk is something many parents perceive as instrumental to a child’s overall psychosocial development, whether we anticipate it or dread it. The sex conversation is seen as an important foundation for our children’s future behavior regarding not only sexual issues, but marriage, family, and friendships. Therefore, as parents we can no longer fool ourselves, what sex education used to be, is now the social media talk to have with our kids. Nowadays the two often become intertwined; we live in an epidemic of inappropriate sexting, nude pictures, and inappropriate texts. The appropriate use of social media and technology is essential to our children’s personal development, and professional future.
Parents should insist that kids never transmit inappropriate pictures or words. Illustrate to them that nude pictures and other inappropriate behavior on social media is documented, replayed, and sent around. Using the Steubenville case parents can speak frankly with their children about the inappropriate use of social media, the dangers, and remind them, nothing in cyberspace ever really goes away. Discuss with them the implications of posting inappropriate pictures and messages. Parents should let children know that whatever they post are representations of themselves. Talk about the long term consequences of inappropriate pictures, and texts not only to them but their parents, and family as well. Children are not always fully aware of how fast and how far detrimental information or photos can go.
Tackle the issue of your child receiving inappropriate pictures or messages and what is the appropriate action to take. Foremost, the parent should be notified, and if at school, tell a teacher. Reiterate to them it is never acceptable to take part in passing on such texts or pictures.
Parents must insist their kid’s online accounts are accessible by their parents. The notion of privacy between parent and child in relation to social media should be void. If they want privacy, why post stuff online? When we purchase technological devices for our children it is time to get over the privacy hurdle and start monitoring. We cannot just hand these devices to children and think they will use them appropriately without proper guidance. Parents need to instill rules and follow through with them.
The notion of using time limits or banning social media services as a stopgap measure is no longer applicable. Will inappropriate behavior continue to occur on social media? I am sure it will. Yet, when it comes to internet responsibility, parents are the key. Social media is not just about fun and games, or global communication. It is a platform that stores information and if used inappropriately has consequences and implications in our children’s lives forever.
I am not saying if the Steubenville children parents had spoken to their kids about the inappropriate use of social media, the incident would never have occurred. Nevertheless, this is an unfortunate incident that parents need to realize happened, and may occur again if children are uninformed and not monitored online.
Therefore, it is imperative that just as we take measures to safeguard our children in issues of sex, and drugs, social media should be approached with the same vigor. We are the ones equipping our children with the latest technologies; we sometimes go out of our way to purchase them. We are aware of social media the good, bad, and the ugly. Hence, let us go out of our way to communicate and educate our children on the correct use of these items.