Oh the social…

Since I’ve mentioned it on Facebook, it’s pretty much public knowledge. I’m now the parent of a teenager, may God have mercy on both me and my wife. With the advent of the teen-years has also come the availability of social networking for my newly fledged teen. Suddenly, my teen can get Gmail/Google+, sign up for Facebook, create an Instagram or twitter account, and generally be put out there in ways which were previously not possible. It’s an interesting conundrum. How do we help our teenager to create appropriate social connections in a forum which is anything but private?

We have not outright forbidden our teen from joining any social networks. We’ve only asked that we be in the loop before any accounts are opened (we retain veto power), and that we will be included in the friends list for any accounts created. So far, so good. Facebook holds absolutely no interest for our teen, as we explained how public everything on the network actually is. Pretty soon an account at a young writer’s site will probably be opened, which we’ve encouraged, and the iCloud address attached to our teen’s iOS devices will probably be their email identity for some time (though I wouldn’t be adverse to a gmail migration – and even a G+ account after some conversations).

Our teen has shown some interest in Instagram, but has seen what “hashtag mania” has done to some friends so it’s lost it’s luster. We’ve talked about Instagram some, I don’t mind if my teen signs up for an account, with the proviso that “selfies” are not a wise use of social networking – especially at such an impressionable age. My teen also wants to upload images of original artwork, and the terms of service for Instagram are also an obstacle on that network.

So what’s that leave? Well, flickr peeked a lot of interest, especially for photo essays which my teen wants to do. Flickr is a wonderful deal right now, and the ability to reserve rights to images is a killer feature in a social network for my teenager. I may actually encourage such a step in the future. Given that my teenager’s instinct is to trail-blaze, I think it will be appealing to be a trend-setter rather than jump on a service “everybody is using.”

Interestingly enough, I also wouldn’t object to a twitter account. Twitter, unlike FaceBook (and even Google+), doesn’t really have an illusion of privacy. Everything not specifically shared as private, and any account not limited to approved followers is out there for the world to see. Because other social networks have an illusion that no one but “friends” can see a post, it encourages unwary teens from sharing all sorts of things which are not wise to share publicly. The selfie phenomenon, for example opens adolescents up to all sorts ridicule and bullying which, unlike the meat-space variety, cannot be escaped with distance. In a world of social networks, a bully travels around in their target’s pocket. All that is needed is for FaceBook to change privacy settings and suddenly “friends of friends” have the floodgate to a feeding frenzy opened to them. Instagram suffers from another issue, where adolescent users aren’t hiding their posts, but allow the number of likes determine their self-worth.

Without an illusion of privacy on Twitter, it becomes easier to communicate the need to reflect with wisdom (and to learn what that is) before any post is made. Twitter, I find, may just be provoke a good mix of open social connections and prudent self-awareness.

This is all touch and go at the moment, we’re feeling our way though – layout out clear guidelines and expectations while taking a cue from our teen. Interesting times, indeed.

2 Comments

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  1. I am both looking forward to and dreading this moment in my own kids’ lives. Then again, I have no idea what is going to be out there when my kids are teens. Chances are, though, I’ll still be there…

  2. I think you’re going down the right track. I think the most important thing is discussion and openness.

    Every platform has it’s merits and drawbacks. There are things that are appropriate to say online, and there are things that can turn around and bite you in the butt. But it’s also an effective tool for personal expression.

    One of the things I feel is sorely lacking for kids today is much in the way of effective mentoring for how to behave online… Most parents of teenagers today didn’t get introduced until the Internet until they were adults, so they don’t have a very keen understanding of how that plays out because they never experienced it first hand.

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