Social media whirl a long way from child’s play

When I was about 11 years old and off to high school, I remember my mother making it quite clear to me that in my world, there were set, appropriate modes of behaviour – no bad language, be kind, speak and dress well, be respectful and act with grace.

Breach of these rules was not a possibility. Today, I also tell my children these things but today, they play in a larger playground almost completely accessed outside the school gates – the social media world. The behaviour of today’s young is accessed by millions. Youth’s previous right to naive poor judgment and its consequences can now be amplified and on display globally. Your digital resume is there for all to see and will follow you long into your future. Each day, I counsel some of Australia’s leading entrepreneurs and ASX-listed leaders on how to deal with their personal brand online and off. The social media slip-ups of former US congressman Anthony Weiner and Olympic swimmer Stephanie Rice prove that even educated, high-profile adults with much career opportunity, do not understand the impact, or consequences, of social media use. If these notions don’t come naturally to adult leaders, how can we expect our young to understand?

To our youth, the world of social media is instantly gratifying. Some sleep with their phones in fear of becoming “invisible”. They have the tools to make statements, comment, post photographs and join groups that can be viewed instantly by thousands, if not millions, on a global stage.

The latest media reports say private monitoring of student social media pages occurs as a matter of course outside and inside school hours. How sad. It would appear certain schools are worried about their reputations being tarnished and unable to inspire a level of trust in their pupils.

It’s the equivalent of the police taking on permanent surveillance at teenage parties. As a parent and consultant, bringing social media education into the classrooms as part of the curriculum would be a better solution. Instigating a Big Brother mentality seems to me to be suggesting guilty before proved innocent and taking away the responsibility we must entrust.

Monitoring students 24/7 does not set them up for a mature, educated or trusted lifelong use of social media or the ability to make good decisions. That’s not to say I don’t approve of monitoring. For those students or employees who are repeat offenders, the consequences should be monitoring, just as the consequences are surveillance within the police world for suspects.

Cases of cyber bullying, defamatory comments, sexting, harassment, racial slurs, outrageous sexual innuendos, unlawful and embarrassing photographs will haunt your children long after they are taken and could tarnish their reputation or even their legal record for life. It is important they know the consequences now.

My tips for parents dealing with their child’s social media habit are simple and less intrusive, although I do condone monitoring as a penalty. Firstly, talk to them about what they and their friends do online and what they think is acceptable. Secondly, put the implications of their actions into context for them “age appropriately”. Get them to imagine the boy of their dream’s parents reading one of their posts. Thirdly, don’t overreact. Banning social media, making blanket rules and rash threats will only encourage secrecy and resentment. More importantly, your child won’t learn the importance of online etiquette – lessons that should stay with them for life.

Social media is here to stay and joins the long list of parenting responsibilities.

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