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.