My oldest just got his first phone. My Android began ding-ding-dinging with invites from my teenager to follow him on his brand-spanking-new social media accounts.
It has begun.
Today commenced with an alert that my son posted a new picture on Instagram. It’s his sister, in her bathrobe on the couch, being stalked by our cat. I messaged my boy:
“Social Media Etiquette Alert: always get permission before posting a picture of someone online.” (Because, you know, the cat might not have found that crouch position flattering.)
He replied back. “Oh, sorry.”
I texted him a thumbs-up and the kiss-blow Emoji, along with the words, “You have much to learn, young Padawan.”
For several years I’ve been hammering into my kids the sobering fact that they do not have the luxury of doing stupid things undocumented and with anonymity, like I and their father (who never actually did a bonehead thing in his life) enjoyed. One’s parents, teachers, employers, future spouse and descendants have unfettered access to whatever gets published to the digital cosmos. Anything done or said can be captured via ubiquitous cell phone camera, uploaded, and branded in perpetuity like a tattoo on the butt cheek of the internet.
So, my son, here are three more simple but powerful suggestions from your friendly neighborhood Mom who doesn’t want to see your future besmirched by ill-advised social media choices.
1. Before you post, ask yourself, “Is there even ONE person anywhere in the world I really hope never sees this?”
If the answer is “Yes,” delete immediately.
Some years ago a younger family member posted on Facebook a juicy little tidbit about an event involving her… er… love life. I commented, “Hey, do you want me to tell Grandma to stay off your page today?” Geez.
2. Before you post anything involving another human being, ask yourself, “If someone else posted this about me would I be cool with it?”
If the answer is “No,” delete immediately.
This one’s a struggle for me—and my conscience occasionally loses the battle with my baser self—when I’m tempted to post some scathing snark about a public figure. Try to remember that even the person you loathe most on the planet is still a person with feelings and a reputation they care about. And there are a plethora of trolls online who will say all the hateful stuff you might ever want to, anyway. Let them be the sleazebags while you take the high road. You’ll never regret the mean thing you didn’t say.
3. Figure out and leverage the privacy settings for each and every social media account you use. (And don’t even think about using them to box out your mother. I’ll know. I have spies.)
Jerks are everywhere. Some of them will address you on social media. It will hurt. But you are not at these cretins’ mercy. You don’t have to invite them over to hang out with you. He who has the highest number of Facebook friends doesn’t win any kind of prize, so unfollow, unfriend, block. Quality over quantity, my son. Respect yourself and value your contribution to society enough that you refuse to tolerate disrespect.
* * *
I want to tell you one more thing: you’re going to mess up. You’re going to post something that hurts someone, that embarrasses you, that you wish you hadn’t posted. (You’re going to do the same kinds of things IRL, too. We all do.)
When it happens, own it. Apologize for it. Do everything you can to make it right. And try to do better next time.
You’re on your way to adulthood. (And it’s killing me.) The perks are expanding, but the stakes are increasing. Think, think, and think some more about your decisions before you make them. I’m here to help, and to do all I can to keep you safe and on the right track.
But the fact is, you’re spending more time alone in the world (and now in the digital world) than in my company. It’s up to you to decide who you’re going to be out there.
I think you’re going to be amazing. Because you already are.