More than half of teens go online several times a day. Some of us could argue that our kids never go “offline” as approximately ¾ of American teens say they have access to a smartphone. Not surprisingly 71% of teens use more than one social network site, defining teens as kids between 13-17 years old. The most popular social media platforms used by teens? Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. None of these statistics are surprising. Kids willingly use and post information about themselves on social media. Then why does it matter if parents post about their kids on social media? And why are kids not happy about the fact that the adults in their lives feel as they can post anything they choose about them?
So off I went to do one of my informal, unscientific and most likely biased polls with a sample group of guinea pigs, my kid’s friends, my kid’s, willing subject matter experts…..yep – that one….
There is a clear tension between kids feeling comfortable with posting information about themselves and adults deciding what information to post about kids. And what I find most interesting is that what kids are really saying is that they want to control their privacy – maybe not in those words but that certainly is the message. It is clear how they feel between what they decide to post versus someone else deciding. And as I have conversations with kids of different ages, they are aware that, for the most part, they are not comfortable making these decisions on their own and arbitrarily. They are looking for some form of adult guidance on being responsible at least at the outset of their social media experience. Really showing a deeper insight into their understanding of the perils of social media and internet use and the importance of their privacy.
So what can adults do to help their kids? For starters, we can make sure we teach them responsible digital citizenship. They need to understand the consequences of posting information that while not all bad, some information could be embarrassing down the road. Like pictures of me in my 80’s outfits including the fantastic hairstyles of the moment, but I digress……we need to be able to teach our children what is a good app to use, which ones to avoid, and the appropriate time to post information about themselves. The more I talk to my own kids the clearer it is. Kids are growing with technology, no doubt about it, they are also growing with an increased awareness of privacy. So how do we help them navigate this social media sandbox? For starters we need to give them the decision making power of the information we disclose about them. They are a lot more comfortable when they can decide what is disclosed about them, so why not honor that?
However, parents face many challenges when trying to help their kids navigate social media platforms and apps. There are many articles about the “best apps” or the “most popular social media platforms” but little information on what apps / social media protects their privacy and data. Further, there is very little information in a format that kids can understand and relate to. So while articles like this one from EdSurge are great for deciding whether an app is useful or not, it doesn’t provide insight into the apps privacy policies. And that matters, because apps are downloaded, most likely kids provide information about themselves, and they need to understand the ramifications of providing this information.
So as our kids continue to play in the social media sandbox, we need to help them learn how to “share” or not….depending on what they want to say about themselves.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from my kid’s school. It was a letter from the Principal talking about social media use and tips for creating a safe environment for students. It’s middle school, my kid has a smartphone and continually begs for a YouTube, Instagram and Twitter account…..hence my interest in the letter (notwithstanding my interest in privacy and all things Ed-tech). Maybe not sandbox age kids but close…..
It was an interesting letter, pointing out the benefits and perils of social media (I am sure we are all saturated with these types of communication) and I almost closed my email and hit the delete button. But what made it stand out was that the letter had a list of “top ten” apps / social media sources kids are currently using and it didn’t lecture parents on good use of screen time but it provided a nice “cheat sheet” for parents to learn about these apps. Now I don’t have an excuse to say “I’ve never heard of that but my kid always uses it.”
Most of us are using social media to communicate with our personal or professional networks and a primer on popular teen social media platforms is great. They are using these platforms to communicate with their friends and showcase what is important to them about their lives. And here is where I see the tension between what our kids voluntarily post and what we, as parents, choose to post about them. We are proud parents of our moppets and can’t wait to share with the world their latest and greatest, even if the latest is them doing something that appears funny but to our kids could be potentially embarrassing either now or in the future. The New York Times recently ran an article appropriately titled “Don’t Post About Me on Social Media, Children Say”
I advocate for us to recognize kids own their data, their information. This article certainly expresses how children see their information and how it should be disclosed. It’s interesting when you read it from a privacy standpoint as it is clear to me that kids want to protect and determine what their data trail should be. When we post specifics about our kids in social media we are contributing to their data trail but we often do not ask them how they feel about it. It was not surprising to me that this generation of kids, growing up with these technology tools understand that social media is an extension of themselves. It’s worth asking if we are protecting our kids privacy when we post information about our kids, are we aware of the history we are creating for them as they act as, well….kids…..and as much as it is newsworthy to us, after all we are the proud parents, it might not be something our kids want out about themselves.
When we talk about children’s privacy we need to include the concept of agency and granting it to kids so that they can craft their own data trail. However, often this idea is viewed as radical as we are not comfortable with allowing this. There is a real struggle between what we want to disclose about our kids and what our kids want to disclose about themselves. The idea of giving kids autonomy on decisions about their data opens the dialogue into a wider context and one in which we relinquish some of our decision making abilities regarding our kids. But I can’t help but think this is a good thing. Kids can be great advocates for themselves especially when they know we are listening. Even a very young kid can state what works and doesn’t work for them in school. What would kids determine to be their history if we empower them to make the decisions early on how to craft their story. I’m sure the social media sandbox would look vastly different.