This weekend, there was a serious social media incident at a school nearby. It involved a hacked Instagram account, children who were too young for the use of Instagram anyway, and parents behaving poorly. The incident caused me to reflect on my own and my children's impending use of social media. Like most moms my age, I use Facebook with friends and LinkedIn professionally. I tweet from time to time as well, but I've only just learned the difference between a handle and a hashtag. In short, I am clueless.
With this in mind, I jumped at the chance to attend a workshop on social media for parents offered by the student council at the Rochester Institute of Technology. They began by quizzing us on our knowledge of social media. The result was an #epicfail on our part. The hour was enriching, hilarious, and a little nerve wracking. Here are a few of my take-aways.
As parents, we know even less than we think we do. When the RIT students had us match the icon to the social media platform, we only knew the basics -- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. There's an icon with a ghost, one with a robot monkey looking face and countless others. As they explained, the ones we use are the ones they are least likely to use.
Once we get a hang of something, it's probably already "out."
Mom 1: Can you tell us how to tweet?
Student council president: Actually Twitter is on the down slide.
Mom 2: What? I'm tweeting this right now!
Student council president: I guess that's my point.
Teens monitor themselves more than we acknowledge.
Student council member 1: I was a little addicted to Instagram, but then I stopped for a while. I knew it was too much.
Student council member 2: I stay off of Instagram because it can make me feel a little insecure. Everyone looks amazing, but you don't know how many filters people are using.
Student council member 3: Snapchat can be a distraction, so sometimes I turn it off when I need to focus. On the other hand, it's great for staying on top of news.
Chorus of parents: Seriously? The thing with the ghost is good for news?
If you can't beat them, join them. But don't friend them. The consensus on this one was clear. Give your children space or they will rebel. We cannot completely control what they do online and the more we try to, the more they will go undercover.
Student council member 2: It's nice that my mom understands Instagram. I don't really share things with her on it, but sometimes we sit down and look at what my friends are posting together and that's always good for a laugh.
Parent 3: So can I tell my son that he can have Facebook and Instagram but only if he friends me?
Student council member 2: You can say he has to do anything you want, but online he can do whatever he wants. Don't send him into hiding.
Parent 3: What if I make him post a picture of me once a month with the hashtag awesome mom? Wait, does he need to leave a space between awesome and mom or is it just one word?
Youth value privacy. The students knew more about privacy settings than the rest of us and were adamant about using them. They are also acutely aware of the risk of screenshots going public. They've seen it happen and don't want it to happen to them. They explained to us, though, that it's a good idea to have someone in the know - a parent, cool aunt, or friend - teach children the basics of privacy and safety when they first start to use social media.
Some great advice can come from surprising places.
Student council president: Know what your priorities are and use social media to meet them, not defeat them.