“First impressions are everything,” a common phrase that once referred to tone, dress, and overall demeanor. Nowadays, it also refers to one’s social media page. Teens rack up 6 hours per day of social media browsing. They not only browse endlessly, but they also post impulsively. With immature prefrontal brain development, they are unable to accurately anticipate possible consequences. Plus, the internet culture is vulgar, shocking, and celebrates pushing moral limits. Using profanity, sub-tweeting and cyberbullying are common. Using principles from Dr. Bennett’s book, Screen Time in the Mean Time: A Parenting Guide to Get Kids and Teens Internet Safe (now available on Amazon in hard copy, e-book, or audible), this article covers how to best guide your teen through the social media dilemmas of cyberspace.
My friend “Catherine” used to expose her ex-boyfriends on Facebook. Once she posted, “He says he’s over me, but he just came to my house and cried.” She said that many times, she’d think twice and delete her post. Other times, her ex-boyfriends posted responses. For example, she said one of her exes took a picture of his C-shaped feces and captioned it, “C for Catherine because she’s a piece of shit.”
My friend ” Robert” also shared a personal story, this is one about Myspace going wrong. When he was in the eighth grade, his high school sophomore girlfriend sent him nude selfies. Robert showed his friends the photos. Although he refused to text them directly, a friend hacked his phone and sent himself the nude photos. Within a few days, the girls’ family and the police were at Robert’s door. Her photos had been posted on Myspace. Although Robert did not directly post her photos online, he was held responsible because they were initially in his possession.
We love our podcasts at GKIS. In one of our favorites called Hidden Brain, the “You Can’t Hit Unsend” episode tells the story of William, whose social media posts destroyed a golden opportunity with Harvard.
William was an intelligent, charismatic high school senior from Pennsylvania. He was an excellent student who played competitive golf and performed for the local symphony. Although he didn’t believe he was “Harvard material,” he applied anyway. He was accepted through the early admission process and was overcome with joy. In the excitement of his acceptance, Will quickly joined an online group chat to meet other incoming freshmen.
One chat room that focused on sharing memes was particularly funny. As the friends grew closer, they exchanged increasingly “edgier” memes, riding the fence between funny and offensive. To be added to the subgroup chat, at least one edgy meme had to be shared in the main group chat. As time passed, the memes increased in explicitness, oftentimes referring to topics like rape, the Holocaust, lynching, and masturbation. Will states that members of the chat knew that their meme was good based on how many likes and fire emojis members commented afterward.
The admissions department at Harvard University learned of the chatroom and investigated. Will apologized, elaborating, “It is far too easy to act out of character behind a screen in a fast-paced setting and to say things I would never say or even think of in my everyday life.” Harvard ultimately withdrew ten prospective students because of their participation.
Will shared that he will always remember the last sentence of the email, “Harvard can withdrawal admission under various conditions, including if you engage or have engaged in behavior that brings into question your honesty, maturity, or moral character.”
Later, the situation was written about and published by Harvard’s student newspaper. Soon after, the story was everywhere, including CNN and Fox News. Will and his family were devastated. He waited a year and applied to other schools, only to be rejected by all ivy league universities. Will’s voice broke with emotion as he spoke of the experience. His emotional honesty appealed to a physics department chair at a school he was waitlisted on, and he was ultimately granted admission.
The information posted on the internet can make or break your teens’ future endeavors. Studies show that the relationship between digital footprints and personality is about as constant as the relationship between personality and behavior, also known as “personality coefficient“. That means that your behavior on your social media profile is a reliable source of information about your personality traits.
Many college campuses and jobs use online data to investigate prospective students or employees. While the internet is fun and creates a space for creativity and connection, adolescents can make dire mistakes online just as they do offline. Instead of those mistakes happening in front of a few close friends and family, they can be blasted out to millions. Social media profiles produce large amounts of user-generated data that may be used and sold in ways we cannot anticipate.
As social media evolves, parenting tactics must evolve as well. That means educating yourself about the risks of posting and challenging your kids to explore online risk with ongoing empowering dialogue.
Here are a few ways you can prep them today:
- Use our free GKIS Connected Family Screen Agreement to set parameters and create a screen-friendly, cooperative dialogue.
- Engage in fun co-viewing, both with passive screen use (TV) and interactive screen use (browsing the internet). Fun projects may include researching a particular topic using various learning formats (articles, videos, images).
- Find food recipes and cook a meal together.
- Co-create a movie – complete with music, still-image slides, videos, and graphics.
- Work together to purposely stylize your family’s cyber footprint. Ensure that that footprint will work for you rather than against you.
- Act as a role model on social media and encourage responsible posting.
- Block, filter, and track online behavior using the tools offered in our GKIS Screen Safety Toolkit.
Internet sites can collect and analyze large quantities of data from everyday devices. This information provides more opportunities to use data in deceitful ways. With helpful GKIS tools, you can best prepare you and your teens.
Thanks to Isabel Campos for her research and help with writing this article. Interested in learning more about current cyberspace news? Signup for weekly GKIS articles by entering your name and email address at GetKidsInternetSafe.com!
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
(Hidden Brain, 2019)
(Meyer, Finn, Eyde, Kay, Moreland, Dies, Reed, 2001)
(Meyer, Finn, Eyde, Kay, Moreland, Dies, Reed, 2001)
(Azucar, Marengo, & Settanni, 2018)