Write thank you cards. Say “please.” Open the door for a lady—how antediluvian such advice sounds! That may be so, but advice mavens are needed now more than ever to guide us –and our tweens— through the digital landscape. Tweets are no longer bird songs. “Selfies” is a new dictionary term, not to mention obsession. Social Media Today says over 5 million users are under the age of ten. No one knows how many Facebook folks ignore the under thirteen-years-old rule. Our kids can easily run amok in cyperspace. So I have rounded up the latest tidbits from a cutting edge group of experts. Teach your children well.
1. Say no thanks to pranks. Risk-prone teenage boys with smartphones tend to brainstorm questionable YouTube sensations. Take “gallon smashing” wherein a boy grabs a large juice or milk container from a supermarket shelf and then (purposely) slips and falls, splashing the liquid flamboyantly for a viral audience. Charlene C. Giannetti alerts parents to this gag and “Fire in the hole” (douse a fast food server with soda at the drive-in window) in her new book Parenting in a Social Media World. She says, “Parents need to talk with their children about the destructive nature of these acts.
2. Resist TMI (too much information.) “Check yourself before you wreck yourself” is the way J.J. Cannon puts it in her new book @Sophie Takes a #Selfie. Kids post, blog, upload pictures and videos, and tweet endlessly. Details can endanger safety. Private confessions and candids can be cyper-torpedoes bullies hurl back for purposes of humiliation. Heed J.J.’s “The internet is not your private diary.” Parents, post that on your refrigerator!
3. Build a virtual moat of good will around you. Cannon coins her term “virtual moat” as in you are the queen of your digital kingdom and you can screen out whomever and whatever you choose.The sad fact is that people say things on line that they would never say to someone face to face. Make sure your child never become one of those. Empower her/ him to set standards of kindness and honesty. Keep actions positive. That means not passing along hate speak. If mean comments pop onto the screen, delete and block the offensive sender. If harassment is harsh or continues, kids need to seek out a parent or trusted adult.
4. Keep time the old fashioned way. “Teens use their cell phones as a tracking device, texting and monitoring each other’s whereabouts,” explains New York mom-journalist Jennifer Senior and author of All Joy and No Fun. They have “a different sense of time and planning etiquette.” A fluid concept of time conflicts with parents’ desires to track them and their destinations. So teach kids to navigate real time as well as virtual spur-of-the-moment living. And put a “digital lights out” boundary on texting and iPads.
5. Watch language. Cyberspace is peppered with LMFAO, and F this and F that. Kids curse to sound grown-up with acronyms, clever codes all their own. Parents upload pictures of their kids cursing as entertainment. And then there’s the jk (just kidding.) That jk is like an insincere PS usually added at the end of a lame insult or nasty come-back. It’s plain and simple mean-spiritedness. What a tween types can peg them as crude, rude, and mean so watch it.
6. Respect the privacy of others. Tagging someone in a photo without their permission is a no-no according to Cannon’s etiquette canon. And if someone tags your tween without his or her permission you have every right to be annoyed and to request that they take that picture down. In between the lines of this etiquette tip—be careful who you child poses with, not to mention how. Selfies can be spontaneous fun, but troublesome afterwards. A Source Jobvite survey asked recruiters: Have you reconsidered a candidate based on their social profile? Forty-two per cent said yes!
7. Ponder the question: To save or savor the Moment. Have you noticed that wherever you go whether it’s to a birthday party, a concert or a travel excursion, everyone you see holds up a smart device to video or click a photograph or to pose for a selfie? Whatever happened to living in the moment? We have become so busy capturing the moment that what’s missing is enjoying the moment. While it’s great to create a digital replica of Kodak moments, let’s not forget to live life. Debate this question with your tweens. Challenge them to try keeping devices turned off, and just breathe in their experience and store them in their memory bank, the real one.
8. Tween alert: Like yourself first and foremost. Life on line is all about being connected. In other words, it’s about being validated by the comments and endorsements (“likes”) of others and the numbers of “friends” in a cyber-circle. Kids can get sucked into all this connective-itis. Young adolescents, 10-to-15-year-olds, in particular crave a sense of belonging and desperately want to fit in. They risk becoming obsessive about texts and “likes” putting their self-worth in jeopardy. It takes time for tweens to build a strong sense of self. And that means learning to put online life in perspective and not hanging on the texts and clicks of others.
9. Parents: Censor Yourself. Remember Rielle Hunter, paramour of John Edwards as he ran for president? Rielle may be old news, but Giannetti worries about the repercussions that will dog daughter and love child Frances Quinn. All those media stories, centerfolds Rielle did, and tapes, along with a barrage of nasty cyber reactions lay in wait for this child as she grows up. Most of the social media warnings are aimed at kids, but parents need to ponder what damage they inflict with their own TMI.
10. Bleep Bullies. This bears repeating even though efforts to fight meanness have been included in some of the other tips. Why? Bullying persists despite how often it is railed against. It rears its ugly head in cyberspace. No one is safe. Did you know that Anne Hathaway star of The Princess Diaries movies, and Oscar winner for Les Miserables became targeted on Facebook with a page called “I Hate Anne Hathaway”? Giannetti tells us that Anne haters chimed in on blogs and media websites. Keep vigilant. Laurie Mandel Ed.D. founded GetAVoice.com to alert kids, teachers, and parents to anti-bullying tactics. Spread the word in your blogs, posts, and tweets that bullies are not cool.
Margaret Sagarese is the coauthor of Cliques: 8 Steps to Help Your Child Survive the Social Jungle.