***This post was inspired by
by OKCupid co-founder Christian Rudder,
where he analyzes online date to find out that people
who prefer beer are more likely to have sex on a first date.
Join From Left to Write on October 9th
as we discuss Dataclysm. As a member, I received a copy
of the book for review purposes.***
I have a love/hate relationship with social media.
I love it for all the same reasons everyone else does: keeping in touch with family and friends, seeing pictures of them and their families, getting recipes and decorating ideas, all the hilarious memes; you know, the same reasons that everyone loves social media. I hate social media because it can swallow an entire day whole if I let it. I allow myself to get sucked into political debates (I am fascinated by politics and could talk all day) or get into conversations or I go on Pinterest to find an idea for a kids' Halloween party. The next thing I know, it's 5:30 and little people want to be fed.
And I will say that ten or twelve years ago, I might have thought it ridiculous that you can meet people online and develop real and lasting friendships, but I am singing a different tune
today. I have actually met some really great people online who have become friends There are message boards, forums, chat rooms, comment sections on blogs, and mobile apps for discussing everything from parenting to politics, and from airline travel to dog grooming. I, like millions of others, have jumped into the data pool.
This past summer, my husband, kids and I went on vacation with some members of a group of people I'd met via Facebook. We all met and shared a cabin for a long weekend and it was really a great time.
Everyone was EXACTLY who they had portrayed themselves to be on Facebook.
And therein lies the potential problem with making friends online; how do you know that they are who they say they are?
I have a group of moms that I have known online for nearly eleven years. We met in a parenting/pregnancy forum and we all have kids born in a particular month and year. I have met one of them in person, but the rest I have not. We share pictures of our kids and our families and ourselves. There is one in the group though, I have never seen a picture of her. I believe she is who she says she is, but I have to admit I wonder sometimes.
My kids are old enough now to have an online presence and it worries me greatly. I know that this is the world they inhabit; they need to learn to navigate it safely and wisely. We talk about online safety, and I demand their passcodes and their passwords. I follow them on Instagram and I read their emails. I tell them very bluntly upfront, upon receipt of an iPod or a tablet or any other Internet access device, that they have ZERO expectation of privacy, and if I catch them lying or hiding, their access will
be closed down. I sometimes shake my head at the things they post; it's silly and not really very funny to me, but it sure is to them. Some of it has been borderline inappropriate. I've seen their friends posting completely inappropriate things, and I have talked to them about them. In one case, the kid in question has been friends with my boys, literally since they were babies, and I reached out to him via text message and talked to him about what I saw on his Instagram wall.
I sat my kids down and showed them videos about how online predators seek out and victimize kids who don't know better or who think they know who they are talking to. At the end of one of the videos, my oldest son turned to me and said, "I don't think I want a Facebook account anymore." Yay technology!
I'd like to think that most of us social media users are honest and legitimate; we are who we say we are. We're on Facebook to see pictures of our kids and grandkids that live far away, or to find old high school friends. But I have to be realistic too; not everyone is being upfront.
If I meet people on Facebook that I don't know from Adam and then take my family out of state to meet them for a vacation, how can I tell my kids that the Internet is dangerous and they don't need to be on Facebook anyway? It's a fine line to walk; helping them learn to navigate their virtual world (even though it scares me sometimes) or shielding them from it completely, for their "safety" and to their detriment.
Parents have always struggled with how much rope to give their kids as they grow toward adulthood. The online world can be a lot of fun a lot of the time, but it's those unanswerable questions that make me not want to give my kids much freedom: who are these people that "like" your post? Who are these "followers" you have? How do you know who they really are? Who do they want you to be?
Are your kids online? How much freedom do they have?