Jeff Bogle argues that teaching a kid how to use social media and its consequences is the responsibility of parents
Norman Rockwell wouldn’t have been able to paint the relationship I have with my brothers—too much grey, too little charm, and nary a pipe.
My two siblings are considerably older than I, and have different sets of values and priorities for going about their business and raising their families. I used to fret over the growing emotional distance between us, fearing that we’d end up a carbon copy of our father and his two brothers—spiteful, petty, barely related. I am now at peace with it. We remain cordial at family functions, but it cannot be denied that we three have become very different people. That just has to be okay.
I knew that quitting the long time fantasy football league we’ve played in together for over a decade would clip the single thread that still connected us. Phone calls about wasted drafts picks won’t be made and poolside chats about the worth of starting a tight end in the flex spot will no longer be had. There isn’t much else I have in common with them save for our blood and the faintest of resemblances.
So it was an uneasy affair to call my middle brother last week, especially given the nature of what was bothering me. But after 24 hours of deliberation and not being able to find him among her 200+ followers, I had to call him and discuss an Instagram photo his daughter had posted a few days prior. Interspersed with shirtless pics of swimmer Ryan Lochte and goofy snapshots of herself with groups of friends was the message “Shout Out To My Future Boyfriend”, the hashtag #sexual, and this:
His daughter, my niece, who just turned 15 years old, is basically advertising to the world that she is a food whore. Queue awkward conversation music! Even though I am not charged with her upbringing, I couldn’t sit idly by while my niece’s followers, some of whom definitely don’t appear to be random teenage boys from her high school, who found her possibly by the magnetic #sexual hashtag, ponder the intentions and implications of her Instagram revelation.
I’m not one to backpedal away from controversial or difficult discussions, but I remained extremely apprehensive and unsure of how to broach with my brother the subject of my teenage niece’s burgeoning and very public display of her sexuality. This was going to be more of a struggle than debating with him the top ten fantasy running backs. I decided, moments before he picked up, to frame this situation around The Future, because the present is harder for me to comprehend.
But first, I wanted to know 1) if he follows his daughter on Instagram (he does not), if he saw this post of hers (he had, from his wife’s Facebook page), and 3) if he is aware that even after a delete, some things never truly fade away (mixed reaction on this one, not sure he fully understands the power, reach, and possible implications of social sharing.) That last one is incomprehensible, because any sports fan should be hip to the foreverness of social media shots across the bow of society. That shit doesn’t ever go away, if at least one person doesn’t want it to go away. I was alarmed that he didn’t grasp this reality of 21st century life, didn’t effectively communicate it to his daughter, or just doesn’t give two shits about it.
Social media sharing is forever, kids. For reals. I know we are all living in the moment, having fun, laughing at silly cats, and recording every fucking moment of our relatively boring lives, teenagers especially, but let’s fast-forward a wee bit. Future employers, college admissions offices, grant givers, angel investors, prospective boyfriends, and anonymous unsavory types may peek into your past & present social media soul to discover the real you, the you you’ve been revealing every single day of your life, for all to see, for all to judge. Might we lose out on a sweet opportunity tomorrow because of an impulsive tweet or Instagram post today?
It is our job as modern parents to know about these social media tools, our job to stay current and smart in this digital age, and to make sure, from a young age, that our kids understand the importance of representing themselves well on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Tumblr, whatever. Using a #sexual hashtag or similar is bound to attract new followers that you don’t know, people looking for skin to see and, well, maybe to do more with than look at. Yuck. In scrolling through my niece’s followers, to see if her father/my brother was there, I am pretty sure I saw some dudes who, based on their screen names and profile pics, ARE NOT in her 9th grade sphere. And that is a problem. Or should be in the eyes of a concerned parent and social aware teenager.
Could there come a time (are we already there?) when a scholarship decision between equal candidates comes down to a social media background check from a student’s high school days? Could racist, overtly sexual, or ignorant remarks come back to bite a child, and their family, in the ass? Maybe, and that is reason enough to have hard discussions with kids, tweens, and teens now about appropriate social media usage and online boundaries. Things are different from when we were young. Our mistakes, even the nastier ones, weren’t immediately distributed to our friends, their friends, strangers, parents, and, well, EVERYONE ELSE, and become recorded for all of time, re-playable at the push of a button.
We can help our kids learn to use social media properly and with some decorum by remembering to demonstrate exactly that in our own social media accounts. Adults with kids should be leading by example online just as they should behind the wheel, in the kitchen, and, well, everywhere else—kinda like pervs, our kids are always watching us. This means, among other things, that you should NOT wish a player on your fantasy football team death because he didn’t score in his last game (that actually happens), and don’t disseminate any piece of information you wouldn’t feel comfortable telling your mom and dad to their face. This means that unless you really are willing to trade sexual activity for a sleeve of Oreos, you might want to not advertise that you will. And if you will? Shit, maybe some time on a therapist’s couch is in order.
Structured social media assistance for parents and kids may be on the way. DadLabs co-founder Clay Nichols is trying to Kickstart HomePage, a new project that would help families enter the social media world with more knowledge and together become better digital citizens. In the meantime, follow your own damn kids on all of their social media accounts so their uncles don’t have to, and talk to them about how they depict themselves to the world. It is literally the least you can do.
Our kids don’t have to live life as if in their own Norman Rockwell painting, but for god’s sake, don’t turn tricks for food. That’s just fucking ridiculous.
—lead photo by Monica Arellano-Ongpin/Flickr