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Policing parental use of social media

I have to admit I was a bit of a laggard when it came to social media. I was very reluctant to create a Facebook page. It wasn’t because I was afraid of sharing my personal information or details of my life. I initially didn’t understand the purpose or how it would benefit me. But a funny thing happened. I realized that I couldn’t realize my potential as an online/digital media manager without fully embracing social media. So I jumped all the way in. At first I was really careful not to share too much about my family. But my daughters were so darn cute. And I just really wanted my “friends” on social media to see their cute pictures and all their accomplishments. And then how would my friends know I had been on that magical trip to Disney if I didn’t share pictures. Did it really even happen if there were no pictures? I had to have proof right?

It’s that notion that gets many people in trouble – especially parents. I used to share whatever pictures I thought were cute of my daughters. But they would grow incredibly frustrated with me. I took the position that I’m the mom and I’ll post what I want to! But I learned that not only was that inconsiderate, but just plain disrespectful. I put myself in their shoes. I knew I wouldn’t want just any picture of myself posted online. I had to be respectful of their feelings too. 

Andrew Wittman, author of the new book Seven Secrets of Resilience for Parents: Navigating the Stress of Parenthood, reminds us parents that “Once something enters the social media ether it’s there forever, so parents would greatly benefit by taking a few seconds before posting about their kids and ask themselves a series of good and better questions to determine if a public post should be made.”

In an interview with Forbes, Wittman suggested that parents ask ourselves these questions before posting about our kids:

  1. What are my real reasons for posting this?
  2. What is it that I’m trying to achieve or get by sharing this? What’s my target?
  3. Does posting this help me or hurt me in accomplishing my target?
  4. How would sharing this affect my child now and in the future?
  5. How can I better share this and be more selective, sharing with only the relevant people in my child’s life?

For me, it boils down to the simple commandment: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” So I get permission when I want to post a picture of my daughters (Well, 90 % of the time.) 

The sad but true reality is that online activity can result in life or death situations for children and teens. Their self-esteem can live or die by how they are treated online. The last thing parents want to do is embarrass their kids or cause them any harm. But the unintentional harm still exists. According to research from the Pew Research Center, 59% of U.S. teens have been bullied or harassed online and 90% believe online harassment is a problem that affects people their age. The source of the bullying does not need to come from material shared online by family members or other people they know – without their knowledge and/or permission. And on the flipside, parents should be proactive and develop rules for their children’s social media use. Educating children on the consequences of online activities is paramount to keeping them safe and to a certain extent – happy. The bottomline is that children and parents alike have to know when to draw the line with sharing online.

My older daughter recently celebrated a milestone birthday and I wanted to share pictures from her celebration. I received her permission to post the pictures so I thought I was in the clear. Then I got a reminder from a family member that I needed to be careful about putting her pictures online because of all the evilness in the world. He was literally worried about someone trying to kidnap her. At first I thought that was absurd. Afterall, I thought I had done the right thing but getting permission and not posting her location. But there still remain so many risks when interacting and sharing online. While I believe that many social media users in their late-teens and early 20s have somewhat of a good grasp on the dangers of its use, it’s a different story when it comes to young and older people. 

We use the Internet (and social media) in so many aspects of our lives. Education, entertainment, and making financial transactions are just three examples. How would we function in a world without it? It’s a necessary tool that makes our lives more convenient. But with that convenience comes risks.

And that’s the scary part of children and older Americans going online. You just never know who is on the other end of that comment, message or phishing email. Although my children are 21 and 18, I still feel the need to constantly warn them about online dangers including not sharing your location, not responding to messages from people you don’t know, and not sharing too much of yourself online. But as my parents have been introduced to the Internet (they each received brand new tablets for Christmas) and how it can make taking care of small tasks like paying bills easier, my sisters find ourselves answering lots of questions – especially from our mother. She asks questions like what she should do about a particular email she received or what information she should enter on a certain website. But I’m thankful she does ask because that could be saving her from becoming a victim. Cybercrimes against older adults have increased five-times since 2014, costing more than $650 million in losses per year, according to FBI and FTC statistics. While everyone thinks they may be savvy when it comes to digital communication, there are some basic things that can be done to protect yourself. Be constantly aware of who you are communicating with, set boundaries and limitations for online use, and be open to education about new technologies that might affect how you interact online. 


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