Sharing Sometimes Isn’t Caring

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Last week, my post concentrated on teens and their use of social media, but this week I would like to shift the focus to parents. This week the additional resources spoke to me greatly, in particular the topic of parents posting pictures online of their children, otherwise known as ‘sharenting’. As an educator, but more importantly, as a parent, there was a lot of food for thought, and material to challenge my current way of thinking. I have definitely seen my fair share of sharenting on social media, and even been a part of it. I have many social media accounts, used in a variety of ways, from personal to connecting with family to professional.

As an intro for those of you who are new to the concept, here is a quick two minute guide to the idea of sharenting, by Dr. Lisa Lazard

From Dr. Lisa Lazard

The article ‘Sharenting’: Can Parents Post Too Much About Their Kids Online? brought up some salient points. One of the things I liked about Stacey Steinberg’s approach was the fact that she focussed the conversation around individual families. Each family has to come to an agreement about what works for them. She states: “I think our kids need to be able to come of age in a way that they have control over their digital footprint,” she says. “So it’s really important that before we press ‘share’ on our digital devices, so to speak, that we really think about who they might become, who they might want to become and how can we best give them an opportunity to control this new digital identity that they’ll grow to be in charge of one day.” This point by Steinberg is so important because many of us think it might be a harmless picture, but our digital footprint can live forever, so we have to consider the fact that these photos could exist in cyberspace for a long time. We have to ask ourselves, “how will this impact my child?”

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Another important consideration is to open up the dialogue with your kids. She states: “I actually talk to my kids before I post pictures of them, and I’m very protective of what information is out there and who the audience might be for the pictures. I don’t really think that my child would one day wake up and be surprised by it … . Now of course, that conversation is very different with a 5-year-old versus with an 8-year-old or a soon-to-be 13-year-old. But I do have that conversation regularly, and I think that parents who don’t have that conversation absolutely need to be prepared for one day, that their child may find this trail that’s been left from all the years that they have been growing up.” I could not agree with this more, especially as your child becomes older. We might have had a history of posting pictures of our children, but it is important to honour their voices and opinions on the matter. Without understanding what they want, and the young adult that they might be, it could really lead to a divide between you and them, or in extreme cases, as seen recently, to actual legal action:

18 Year Old Sues Parents for Posting Baby Pictures on Facebook

Child sues parents for posting ’embarrassing’ baby pictures on social media

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Another article that highlights the importance of open dialogue is Can you stop your parents sharing photos of you online? This article reinforces the fact that keeping an open dialogue with your children is important and to take their opinion into consideration before you post. The opinions of the teenagers in the article vary drastically, from those that don’t mind at all if their children post, to those that don’t want their parents to post a single picture. Even Gwyneth Paltrow is not impervious to her child’s wrath, as she is called out by her daughter for posting a picture of the two of them on Instagram. Just because we are parents does not mean we always know best, especially when it comes to social media. As I, and many others, have stated before, social media is such a new phenomena that we are literally living a social experiment. We don’t really know what the long term effects of any of what we are using will have on us as individuals, as society, and how will impact our relationships long term. Sure there are a lot of experts and researchers, but at best they have short term research and no longitudinal data.

From Dad University

I found the above piece of media from Dad University quite comical, but he made some excellent points, especially this one: “Starting kids off young with the notion that views and likes matter is not a good idea”. He goes on to explain that this builds a false sense of self and leads to a perpetual vacuum of constantly seeking likes and views, something I can definitely agree with. I also loved his list of 4 questions that you should ask yourself before posting pictures of your children:

  1. Did I get consent?
  2. Why am I posting?
  3. Will be child be upset or embarrassed about the post?
  4. Do I want this to be part of my child’s digital archive?

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

These questions are a great starting point before hitting the ‘post’ button on any social media platform. This reading has given me a lot to think about. Now that my own children are getting older and have become pre-teens, I know it is important that I dialogue with them before I post anything. I am curious to hear from other parents this week about what drives their motivation to post and do they dialogue with their kids before doing so?

An Eye Opening Experience

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This week’s reading was some of the most fascinating so far for me. I definitely consider myself a heavy user of social media, with Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram accounts. Working in the world of tech, it is almost a requirement to be engaged with social media to some degree.  My social media accounts are important for family, friendships, my professional learning network, news, and many other functions. What I found so engaging this week, were the eye opening experiences I read about, which really shifted my understanding of how teens engage with social media.

Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

When I think about the way I communicated with my friends as a teenager, compared to how students communicate today, I would honestly say the only difference is that the speed of the communication has changed. Friendships are paramount to teens, just like they were to me, and maintaining those friendships just as important. Additionally, being in the know was part of the friendship experience for me; who was dating who, when was the next party, and many other topics as outlined in the articles that we read.  With the addition of smartphones, teens are able to always be in touch, and I believe have more friendships that are far reaching. As an adult, growing into social media use, I have seen the way I interact with my friends change, and remain the same. Being able to connect with family and friends from afar is a huge benefit as an international teacher, but I also value being able to sit down, face to face, and catch up with family and friends, unplugged, unwired.

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

I would like to think that I was pretty up to speed on how students used social media. Having taught teenagers most of my career and having had good relationships with kids I could ask them questions about how they interact with social media and get a pretty honest response.  However, when I read Like. Flirt Ghost: A Journey Into the Social Media Lives of Teens and 13 Right Now I definitely had my eyes opened even more. Some of the new learning for me was how dependent teens were on getting “likes” and “emojis” from their peers or crushes. Also, the fact that they combed through their social media profiles deleting pics if they were older, or if they did not garner enough attention.  Additionally, I was surprised that there were so many unwritten rules about how one interacted with others through social media, or maintained their own account. I had the chance to talk to some junior and senior level students at my school, and in terms of Instagram, they were indeed able to confirm some of these unwritten rules. Although, these students did not spend so much time deleting posts that did not have a certain amount of likes, they definitely spent time “cleaning out” their Instagram accounts, so that only the best of the best photos survived. Specifically, in the article 13 Right Now, the father Dave, spoke about the fact that his daughter, Katherine, has never had some of her very best friends over to their home. I recall having friends over all the time as teenagers, in fact one of my best friends practically lived with us for a while.  I could not imagine growing up and not visiting my friend’s houses. Part of me wants to question the authenticity of the friendships that form solely digitally, but another part of me thinks that I need to also understand that norms change, ways of human interaction change, and paradigm shifts happen.

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

The pace of communication has changed drastically, and so has access to information. This has affected the way in which social interactions take place. Teens can spend time nurturing those relationships that are important to them. While this is important, teens can literally be connected with their friends 24 hours a day, and they are in some cases. Statistics tell us that teens are indeed sleeping less, from 2012 to 2015 the number of teens sleeping less than 7 hours per night jumped 22 percent according to two US National Surveys (Analysis: Teens are sleeping less. Why? Smartphones).  From the teens I spoke with at my school, all of them keep their smartphones with them at night, and only a few power down the device. This is why even older teens need guidance and support from parents when managing their social media and smartphone usage.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Recently, there was a great article from the Washington Post, entitled: New report: Most teens say social media makes them feel better, not worse, about themselves. This article has lots of informative statistics on teen use of social media, but the key takeaway is that, overall, teens are much happier on social media than we would expect.  And I think this makes a lot of sense. As discussed above, their relationships have shifted to the digital space, and so, if there interactions are taking place in this space, then of course they are going to be much happier here. They have grown up in this space and with relationships in this space, so putting our adult lens on it does not make sense, because we cannot truly understand it, as our experiences were much different.  The other point that I would like to comment on is that there are those segments of teens who are vulnerable and do experience cyber-bullying, or those that might come across inappropriate content. This is where parents still need to be involved and have conversations with their kids about what they are doing in a digital space, even when parents think their kids are old enough to manage, they still need to keep dialogue open.

One of my favourite YouTube channels has always been Crash Course, by John Green. His videos are quick paced, informative and very witty. I used many snippets when I taught World History.  He recently had a 10 part series on Digital Information, with the final episode dedicated to social media. It is definitely worth the watch:

“When we’re this reliant on a media ecosystem full of pollution, we have to take responsibility for what we read, post and share. And to do that we should fully understand how social media networks really function including the good stuff, and also the terrible stuff.” This quote from John Green is powerful, and speaks to why dialogue with parents and a good digital citizenship program are essential for kids. Our teens are spending a great deal of time on social media and as such are seeing all sorts of ideology, advertisements, and news. Teaching them how to decipher what is real from fake, and how to search laterally for information is a vital skill.

This week more than any, I am really curious about what my peers and others experiences were like in speaking with students around the topic of social media? What were your new insights? How did your thinking shift from what you thought before?