My child is now a pre-teen, and thus far his entire life has been documented on social media. We announced that I was pregnant, his gender, and his arrival on Facebook. I then posted monthly updates including his length, weight, and new skills achieved during that month. Every first day of school, every last day of school, the day he got his glasses, little league games, soccer games, school achievements, vacations, and everyday details have all been uploaded to the internet.
I look back on some of these posts and think I could have used a little more discretion at times, but I also am thankful for this virtual scrapbook of my son’s first eleven years. I love seeing memories pop up of something funny he did or said and social media has always been an easy way to share photos with family and friends.
But now we’ve hit the pre-teen years and I’m hearing “Are you going to post that on Instagram?” more and more with a slight groan in his voice. There have also been incidents where a friend of mine will innocently say something like “Good job on your triathlon,” and he seems taken aback by this person knowing information he didn’t share. We are entering murky waters. We don’t believe he is old enough for his own social media accounts (we will put this off as long as humanly possible), but he is old enough to have an opinion about what details of his life are shared.
It’s important for me to teach my kids about their presence on social media. Once something is “out there” it can live in perpetuity. I want them to be thoughtful about how they present themselves online. It’s important to be authentic, but also to be mindful that potential colleges, bosses, etc. will form an opinion of you based on the information you have uploaded to your account. Recent statistics show that 70% of employers screen candidates’ social media accounts during the hiring process and at least a third of admissions counselors scan applicants’ accounts to get a better representation of the candidate they are evaluating. (Can I get an Amen from all the geriatric millennials that Facebook wasn’t around during our college years?)
My son also needs to learn he has agency over what other people post about him by learning how to politely express when he doesn’t want something posted on social media. We have all read the horror stories of photos of teens being posted without consent. With this in mind, we are setting up some guidelines for how we will move forward in this tween stage of social media. I fully expect these to be fluid and change as he gets older, but this is what we are starting with.
- Big events. I will post about holidays, birthdays, but let him look at the photos I’m posting. If there is a photo he is vehemently against, I won’t post it.
- I will ask before broadcasting his own accomplishments. Sometimes he wants people to know about it. Sometimes he doesn’t. I need to respect that even if I want to shout it from the rooftops.
- We are going to coach him on how to express himself to family members and friends if he doesn’t want them to post his photo without his consent.
- Instead of blindly signing the photo release for school, team sports, etc as I have done in the past, I will ask him if he is OK with his photo being used in these instances.
I’m sure these don’t cover all situations and we will take those as it comes, but we feel like this is a pretty good start on how to let our pre-teen have some control over his social media presence.