enerations of parents have had the same conversations with their kids. Whether it was 1910 or 2010, most every parent has felt the need to talk to their offspring about manners, character, and the birds & the bees. They have lectured on “doing your best” and “fulfilling your potential.” They have probably discussed grand issues of God and faith and the afterlife. While our culture has changed, these conversations have remained essentially the same.
But there is a conversation that our generation must have with our kids that no generation before us has had to consider. We are the guinea pigs and there is no role-model to follow.
We have to talk to our kids about their digital footprint.
It never ceases to amaze me how many stories I hear of good kids doing dumb things online. Girls sending racy pictures of themselves to their boyfriends. Guys posting questionable pictures or statements on Facebook or Instagram. They think it's harmless, but it's quite serious...mainly because it's potentially permanent. In some cases, it might even be illegal.
It's a universal truth that eenagers are not yet able to fully understand the long-term implications of the choices they make today. But this generation of teens have access to a digital world that has the potential to display their bone-headed choices (and their consequences) to the world, at large. The bad news is that, once they put something out there, it's hard to get it back. Parents MUST talk about this with their kids. Here are a few things about which you might need to educate yourself:
1. Know What is Out There
More and more teens are ditching Facebook in favor of Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and a few others. This is probably due to the fact that their grandmothers are getting on Facebook. The newest big thing (as of this writing) is Snapchat, which allows users to send quick bursts of data (pictures or video) that are immediately deleted. Some watchdogs are warning that this app is "made for sexting." But it gets worse. If you want to see what is perhaps the worst application of social media, be on the lookout for this new Facebook App that makes it all too easy for users to "hook up" with friends for sex. It's truly troubling stuff. We could list all the websites that kids are using to connect with each other, but by the time you read this, there will probably be something new. The landscape is changing that fast. Parents can't afford to be oblivious.
2. Know What Sites Your Kids Are Using
At the bare minimum, you need to know what social media platforms your
kids frequent. You also need to educate yourself on how they work. If there are privacy settings that keep unwanted people from seeing their information, then take full advantage of them. Facebook (and others) have caught some flack for being pretty lax in their parental controls, so you have to be diligent to provide some intentional oversight with your kids. There's nothing wrong with requiring that they "friend" you on Facebook or let you "follow" them on Twitter. They probably won't be thrilled about this, but it's a reasonable expectation. Kids need to know that their digital world isn't a place free from parental influence and accountability. They need this.
3. Have the "Digital Footprint" Conversation...Often
You need to inform and then remind them of the significance of what they put online and where they go on the internet. You need to tell them that things are potentially permanent. Even though you may presume that your kids aren't foolish enough to "sext" someone, tell them anyway. (One in four teens have done it at least once. That's a lot of foolish teens.) Remind them that colleges, employers, and others are regularly looking online to learn about the character of applicants. The stakes are very high, indeed. Give them reasons for your rules and then put clear boundaries in place. I like the restrictions that one mom put on her son's iPhone use, but you don't have to be all that strict. Just make it clear that online use (either on the computer or phone) is a privilege and that there are consequences for irresponsible use.
4. Capture and Maintain the Hearts of Your Kids
Don't miss this. Parents who strive to guide their kids in these areas will meet all sorts of challenges. Your kids will not want you to put parameters on this aspect of their lives. They will think you don't know what you are talking about. They will probably roll their eyes. This will happen to just about all of us. However, if you are giving your kids rules without giving attention to maintaining a love relationship with them, then it will be particularly difficult. You can't shortcut this. We must always remember that our kids need love far more than they need a lecture. And if we try to give a lecture without first giving love, then we probably won't be heard.
The "digital footprint" talk is a conversation that you need to have. But the "I love you and want the very best for you" talk needs to come first...and often.