There are two words you can teach your child to help them make good social media choices.
As a father, one of your jobs is to help your child make good decisions regarding social media. Misuse of YouTube, twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, tumblr, flickr, vine, or other types of social media by teens has resulted in cyberbullying, long term suspension, expulsion, suicide, and criminal charges — and that’s the short list. This abuse is not limited to teens, as a nationally touring anti bullying speaker, I have met elementary school principals that suspended students for making racist, hateful and threatening comments on social media sites.
You must have, “The Talk.” It is important that your children understand they can do serious damage to their lives and the lives of others through the misuse of social media.
We are going to focus on hammering home two words they will relate to when it comes to social media: permanent and prosecutable.
Teens and preadolescents will not retain all of what you say to them, they are, however, able to retain key concepts when they are married to memorable keywords or phrases. Here are the points you will make during this short but intense conversation:
#1 — What you send out there is permanent, you cannot get it back, and it will be out there forever.
For example, if you send an inappropriate image of yourself out there on twitter, you will have to deal with the image’s existence for the rest of your life. If you make an inappropriate comment and post it on Facebook, you will have to deal with the consequences for a long time. You cannot control the life of a post, tweet, image, text, or email. Businesses and colleges conduct background checks on applicants. They will check out who you are online. You may not be able to get into college because of something you posted to social media years earlier.
#2 — Inappropriate social media behavior is prosecutable.
You can be suspended from school and even charged with a crime. If prosecuted for cyberbullying, you will be charged with a misdemeanor that will be on your juvenile record until you are eighteen. As I mentioned, employers and colleges conduct background checks on their applicants. You may be unable to get a job because of something you posted on Instagram. You may be unable to get a college scholarship because you tweeted a racial or threatening comment. If you are prosecuted for online harassment or cyberbullying the record of that prosecution will stay with you and limit your options until you are eighteen and may even be found with government background checks after you are eighteen. Your future could be radically changed when you press send or post, please be careful.
#3 — You can cause a lot of pain with one hateful post.
Do you want to be responsible for hurting another person? Do you want to be responsible for another human being harming themselves in anyway as a result of something you post? Your social media actions have consequences.
You have described to your teen how negative social media behavior is both permanent and prosecutable. Will they retain it? Only if you occasionally revisit it to drive home the keywords and their connection to the concept taught. I call this “prompting” and it looks something like this: Your teen is bouncing out the door, smart phone in hand. You look up and say, “Remember, what you do with social media can be both …” and trail off. Your teen then fills in the blank with “permanent” and “prosecutable.” Occasionally, you may ask your teen what that means. They don’t get out the door until they can explain how inappropriate social media behavior can be both permanent and prosecutable.
Take it home parents. While the above may seem dramatic, it needs to be. Making a simple statement like, “Be careful with your phone.” will have absolutely no impact. You must spell out the actions and consequences that will have a negative impact on your teen and others.