Surviving Social Media and Cell Phones.

A recent Rolling Stone article titled “Sexting, Shame, and Suicide” is bringing national attention to an issue those of us working with teenagers have seen all to often – how easy social media and texting makes it to spread everything. Pictures, rumors, videos, and more can be sent out to seemingly everyone in a matter of seconds, and the impact can be startling. I highly encourage everyone, teenagers and adults, to read this article.

Now, after reading the article, how can you keep yourself safe? If you’re a parent, how can you protect your own kids?

Know that it won’t necessarily be easy, but parents and teens can and should talk about the hard stuff. Parents, your kids aren’t going to come talk to you if they’re convinced all you’ll do is yell and judge. And maybe you don’t think that’s how you come across, but you have to remember what it’s like to be a teenager. Teens, your parents have been through crap before, and they can help you through it now.
Mistakes are inevitable. Parental love is unconditional. Communication is essential.

Teenagers need to know that it’s not ok, no matter what mistakes they make (drinking, drugs, etc.) to be taken advantage of sexually. There are no exceptions to this rule. None. And an inappropriate picture or video spread around via texting or social media is included in that. They need to be spoken to about the potential consequences that come from snapping semi or fully nude pictures of themselves and sending them to anyone. On the flip side of that, teens also need to be counseled in how to handle inappropriate material that’s sent TO them. Delete it. Tell the person. Talk to parents. These are things that have to be talked about.

Know that the preteen teenage years are NOT the time to back off. Parents should be involved in every social media world their kids belong to. All logins, passwords, websites, etc. should be kept up to date and shared with parents. Not so that parents can spy, but so they can monitor and protect. Cell phones should be treated the same. This may not make you the most popular parent on the block, but parenting is NOT a popularity contest.

Know how to use privacy settings and insist that they not be altered. Every social media avenue offers some way of setting a user’s information to private rather than public, and every safeguard should be used to ensure teens are not broadcasting personal information to the world. In addition, most cell phones geotag pictures with “where and when” info, which can be accessed through social media sharing (for example, if you choose to use location services on Instagram and tag your #selfiesunday at “Home,” then anyone who follows you can see on the map exactly where “Home” is… that’s dangerous).

And finally, help teens really remember that on the other side of that electronic communication is a real person. I’m noticing more and more that teenagers often disconnect themselves completely from real human emotion when they’re sitting in front of a cell screen or computer monitor. It’s really easy to send out a tweet or message somebody a picture real quick without thinking through the face-to-face ramifications of that action. Help them understand that anything sent electronically is equivalent to yelling that thing out in the middle of a crowded hallway at school.

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

I totally have a crush on the cover of this book. It’s just freaking adorable.

Another thing I really like about My Life Next Door is that it totally takes that whole “the grass is always greener on the other side” saying and messes with it. The idea is supposed to be that we just think the grass is greener over there, but that’s only because we can’t see it up close… that we always want what we can’t have, and even if we got it, we’d discover it’s not much different than what we had to begin with.

If that makes any sense at all. It probably doesn’t.

But here’s the thing… sometimes things ARE better on the other side. Sometimes the family next door really is better off. Sometimes you’re going through some rough times and all you want is someone else’s problems instead of your own.

In My Life Next Door, only child Samantha spends a lot of time watching the chaos of the Garretts, the huge multiple child family that lives next door. Her mother, obsessed with presenting the illusion of a “perfect” family, strongly disapproves of the Garretts and their messiness, forbidding Samantha from making friends with the neighbors. But, from the spot on the roof outside her bedroom window, she has a prime view of their house and back yard… and she watches it all like it’s her own personal reality TV show.

One day, though, Jase Garrett climbs up to join her on the roof, shattering the illusion that her spot was hidden, and bringing her into the perfect chaos that is the Garrett family instead of letting her stay safely on the outside. Jase is sweet and caring and nurturing and everything Samantha’s mom is not. When she falls madly in love with Jase, because who wouldn’t, and gets comfortable with his family, something tragic happens that causes her to have to choose between the two families.

Like I said to begin with, I don’t know how you could pass this up just from looking at the cover. But, if that’s not enough to convince you, just know that the sweet romance and growing up experiences are so good. I loved this. I’m also super excited about the follow-up novel coming in 2014!

Find My Life Next Door on Amazon here.

Bang Release Date!

BANG by Lisa McMann comes out today, and you guys just have to read it. It’s the follow-up to CRASH, which came out earlier this year. I wrote about them in a previous post, but had to go ahead and let you know it was out now. Plus, the cover is super cool and you know it. Good stuff.

Are You Experienced? by Jordan Sonnenblick

In a previous post, I shared with you my love of Jordan Sonnenblick’s Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie. I still completely love it.

Since finding Drums several years ago, I’ve been an avid reader of Sonnenblick’s books as they come out… and while they’ve been good, they haven’t had the same magic that Drums had, which would ultimately leave me a little disappointed.

In his newest title, Are You Experienced?, Sonnenblick has completely recreated that magic. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this book should be every bit as big as The Fault In Our Stars has been for John Green. It’s really that good.

Richie Barber, a fifteen year old guitar playing rebel without a cause, lives life in a constant state of frustration with his parents. They’re older than most of his peers’ parents and seem to thrive on sheltering him as much as possible. For a classic rock and roll kind of guy, this is sheer torture. Then, after a crazy turn of events, Richie finds himself transported back in time to Woodstock where he runs into and hangs out with the fifteen year old version of his dad, his eighteen year old uncle, and others.

Through the experiences of the weekend at Woodstock (which are realistic and honest in terms of drugs, sex, and hippies… but not glorified and inappropriate), Richie develops a deep understanding of and appreciation for his father that wasn’t there before. Ultimately, this is a heartwarming family story with a whole host of fun suprises as you read. I loved the setting of Woodstock, as it’s a historic event that I’ve never seen as a setting in YA literature before, and the experiences of the characters there were unforgettable.

This is really, truly, just a cool book for guys and girls. I’d be ok with mature 8th graders reading this, but some of the content makes it appropriate for mostly high school and beyond.

Go get it now!

(Never) Again by Theresa Paolo

This is a great New Adult title full of swoony romance, college life, and difficult decision making.

Liz is perfectly happy with her group of friends, her somewhat stable boyfriend, and life in general. She had a great high school romance that teenage girls dream of… until her boyfriend, Zach, moved away and eventually just stopped calling, ripping her heart out and ruining her senior year of high school. When he shows up again, all the old feelings of love and pain show up again with him. Liz quickly goes from actually being ok to just pretending to be ok as Zach refuses to go away and let her forget him.

It takes Liz a while to finally realize what the reader knows almost instinctively – Zach let her go in senior year to protect her, not to hurt her. While I definitely wanted to scream at Liz a few times for being so very stubborn and relactant to forgive Zach, I also understood her hesitancy and desire to not let herself be hurt again.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this and recommend it. I’m looking forward to reading more from Theresa Paolo.