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Student Viewpoint: Tips for Parents

digital citizens social media Feb 03, 2018

What do students think parents should know?

I asked one of my former international public law students to give her perspective on Internet and tell parents what SHE thinks they should know. 

Here is what she said:

My name is Susanna and I am a 22 year-old living in San Francisco, CA. My generation was basically raised on social media. We were the first to experiment with Myspace and instant messaging online. I can recall back in 7th grade, creating various screennames because I could not just pick one. I remember I had to wait (not patiently I might add) until my parents made all the phone calls so that I could use our dial-up internet to chat with my friends. These were the days before it was common for a 7th grader to have a cellphone.

Needless to say, the world of social media has continued to grow across all age groups, demographics, and countries. Today, you can literally message or share a photo with someone across the globe in a matter of seconds. That’s the great part about social media - you can connect with the world and meet people and expand your horizons beyond your immediate friend group. But, where accessibility to connect with people expands, vulnerability grows along with it.

A bit of background about me: I am an avid crime mystery novel reader and a devoted TV enthusiast to crime shows, like Criminal Minds, NCIS, Law and Order SVU, etc. I read and watch stories of children who fall prey to the social media web by divulging too much information, attracting an online predator, building trust with a complete stranger, and in the worst cases: being harmed because of it. Although this may be all on TV or written in a book, I know stories like this exist. Just turn the news on at any point in the day.

I think it is extremely sad that something so preventable can harm those who are most vulnerable i.e. the most active users of social media: young kids. I was once that young girl who was naïve and thought it would be a good idea to take some risqué pictures with my girlfriends and post them online. Fortunately (or not so fortunately for me at the time), my friend’s parents worked in law enforcement. They caught wind of these pictures and informed my parents, who very calmly discussed with me the harm and potential consequences that posting those pictures could bear.

At the time I remember being more embarrassed than scared because the words: “online predators” and “child molester” did not resonate with me. Looking back, I can not imagine the fear my parents must have felt when they first discovered this and how much they must have had to calm down and prepare themselves for their talk with me. That being said, I still did not understand the full ramifications of my actions. I am not saying that my parents did anything wrong, I just think that as a child, you feel invincible and safe in your community of friends, teachers, parents, etc. It is very difficult to imagine yourself being that kid on TV who finds themselves in a terrible situation based on their social media presence.

Here are a few tips for kids and parents that I think may help get a better idea of the magnitude of social media and how I, as a 22 year-old in the workforce, view any aspect of social media.

  • There are an endless amount of social media sites out there. Make sure to familiarize yourself with them so you know what sort of information can be shared, i.e. a video on Snapchat and Vine or a picture on Instagram.
  • Don’t be afraid to get real with your kid - kids never think the worst can happen to them or any of their friends, so they may not take your words about the dangers to heart.
  • Know that schools and companies check on everyone’s social media account. Nowadays, a quick Google search will lead you to every social media account an individual has. Employers will check to make sure that inappropriate pictures or posts aren’t being posted.
  • Social media accounts now act as an online biography or resume for an individual. Companies will not hire someone based on what they find on social media.
  • Speaking of that, there are ways to get around privacy settings. If someone is motivated, they can bypass the privacy settings that you imposed and gain access to your pictures and posts.
  • NEVER post private information or sensitive information such as being home alone or your parents being out for the night, etc.
  • The importance of social media shifts with age. These days, I only have one social media account whereas my younger sister who is in high school has multiple with hundreds of followers. The older you get, the less time you have to peruse on social media. That is why a majority of the cases you hear about pertain to younger teenagers and children.
  • Finally, when something is posted online, it never truly goes away. Once online, it just takes a computer-savvy individual to find it.

Social media is great because it allows people to connect across multiple channels. It is involved with every aspect of life these days. Therefore, it is important to treat it with care and caution because the thought “it will never happen to me” is not a guarantee. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

If you have a student in your household who wants to share his or her viewpoint on Internet, social media and what parents should know, please write to me at [email protected]. Anonymity guaranteed.

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