Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Social Media and Young People

I’ve been talking with some other mums lately about social media and our resident young people. My oldest child is thirteen. I’m going for a ‘lead by example’ approach. Here’s what we do and don’t do and how we talk to our kids about social media.

Their dad and I are both on FB. The main thing I use FB for is reading recommended articles and keeping up to date with issues I care about. I’m only FB friends with people I know in real life.

We don't document our daily lives. I don’t use twitter (really, I’m just not that interesting, and I have enough information coming in already). We don’t regularly post pictures of ourselves online. We have carefully controlled images of ourselves online. We don’t take photos and videos of everything the children do. We don’t tell everybody where we are each day. We also don’t use flybuys or are members of big loyalty programs. We don’t play online games. We don’t use sites that share our online personal profiles or our friends’. We don’t like corporations owning information about us. We don’t have advertising online. We don’t monetize our online presence.

We don’t give out our details, or any facts about ourselves that are traceable, on social media.

We are aware that government and corporations already have information on us. We don’t want to give them more so they can market to us, or spy on us. We talk to our kids about following the money trail and about who owns what, eg, everytime you buy something from itunes, you give money to Apple, like a tax.

We have a policy that we don’t upload photos of our kids. There are a few reasons why. Once you upload a photo to social media, you don’t own it anymore and can’t control what becomes of it. We don’t know where we are going in terms of facial recognition technology. We are aware that what gets uploaded remains forever.

I have a blog. I own what I write on the blog. I put my name to it. I’m careful what I disclose about my children and partner. I use it as a place to park my thoughts and links to interesting articles, and to share information. Having a conversation there is a bonus. More frequently, it provokes conversations in my real life. I don’t say anything online I wouldn’t want published in hardcopy, with my name to to it, eg, a letter to SMH.

Their dad owns and runs a website. It is a fansite for The Glasgow Apollo. He does it out of interest. It has had 5 million hits. He doesn't carry on about it.

We don’t gain any value from ‘likes’. We don’t seek validation from strangers. We are proud of ourselves for our achievements and for trying our best and for being kind, but we don’t have to tell everybody. If we have a question we ask someone who is likely to know the answer.

We have real life relationships. Social media can help lubricate them. But the relationships are with people we already know.

I mostly use my mobile phone to check the time. I use it to text people about appointments and arrangements for the children. My 13 year old has an old phone. She usually forgets to charge it or take it with her. She often uses the alarm on it. Sometimes she texts me.

Friends of my kids have already been burnt through using social media. They’ve received nasty comments on photos of themselves. They’ve been hurt through comments on ask. I’ve replied, online, to my daughter’s friend to ask her to stop swearing. I’ve blocked younger relatives from my FB feeds due to the way they talk to their friends.

My kids message their friends. About a year ago I gave them each an electronic device - ipods or tablet. They’d never had playstations or wii or anything like that before. I got them their devices because I was sick and knew it would be a hard year for them, and because I wanted them to have recording devices for songwriting and to have their own music. They only use the home wifi, so don’t have internet connection outside the home. We don’t watch them on their devices as we would if they were are at  the computer or watching television, because they are small, portable screens. But we check their privacy settings. They know that their online interactions remain and can be traced and can be looked at when they apply for jobs, for example, and by people they may not want to see them. We know the parents of people they message. If they do anything online to break our rules, we want to know about it, and are likely to find out through other parents.

It’s not my job to create a virtual identity for my children, nor their online presence. (If I wanted to do that I’d write thinly veiled fiction.) The children will have to create their own online selves, if they choose to (we know people who live their lives without social media - peer pressure doesn’t only apply to children and it takes a strong person to resist doing what everyone else is doing). We want them to do that responsibly. We want them to be aware of the possible short term consequences and long term consequences, for themselves and for others.

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