I got to have breakfast with my kids and 3 of my nieces early Black Friday morning, as we prepared to join the frenzy. Since they knew they were going shopping, they were in extra good moods- which meant minimal attitude and a high parental tolerance level. I seized the opportunity to pick their brains. I do a lot of research on internet safety and social media usage by kids- both those who are under and over the magic age of 13, where they are “legally” allowed to sign up for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Sometimes I get lost in the data and the research, and it’s helpful to get some real life perspective from real life kids.
It was eye opening to me to hear some of the answers to the questions I asked, so I wanted to share them with you. This is a 3 part post: this one covers the perspectives of 6 kids (ages 10, 12, 12, 13, 15 and 16) on their ‘social media lives’ insofar as Facebook and Instagram. The second part, later this week, will cover our conversation about Twitter, Ask.fm, Yik Yak, Whisper and Snapchat. Lastly, I asked these same kids what they think their parents know about the social media they use every day. So here goes.
Question (from me): How many of you use FB and how long have you used it?
10 yr old- “No, mom won’t let me.”
12 yr olds- “Facebook is for old people.”
13 yr old- “Only people my dad’s age use Facebook.”
15 yr old- “I do. I have for a really long time. It’s ok, but I don’t use it much because it’s for old people.”
16 yr old- “You would stalk me, and you told me I couldn’t have one when I first asked (at age 11). And I really don’t want one. Some girls are mean, and there is way too much drama on Facebook.”
Now that I’m feeling like one of the “old people”, I thought I’d throw out an Instagram question. Whoa- that was eye opening:
Question: So, how many of you guys use Instagram?
Answers: (the eye rolling and look of ‘you have got to be kidding me’ gave me the short answers, so I asked them each how many people follow them on Instagram):
10 yr old- “I don’t know, maybe 20?”
12 yr old #1- “266”
12 yr old #2- “799”
13 yr old – “294”
15 yr old- “819”
16 yr old- “515”
I’m breathing deeply, now, trying to figure out where to start with the next line of questioning given these answers.
Question: Do you guys personally know all of your followers?
Answers: “Well, yeah (in unison looking at me like I have 3 heads).”
Me: “Really?” Pointing at MY 12-yr old, “you know 266 people?”
Her: “Ok, I’ll go block the ones I don’t know.”
Me to her 12 yr old cousin: “You know 799 people?! Can I have your autograph?” I got a sweet smile in return.
Me to 12 yr old cousin’s 15 yr old sister: “I guess I need your autograph, too. 819 people, seriously?”
15 yr old: “Yeah, they’re just friends and all the others are friends of friends, and my friends’ sisters and brothers and cousins. And people I go to school with. My school has 4,000 kids, so really, Aunt Janel, 819 isn’t that many.”
By this time, the 13 yr old and 16 yr old are chiming in. “Yeah, Mom, we only let our friends and people we know follow us. We aren’t dumb, we do have the privacy turned on so that we only accept followers we know.”
Me: “Is that right. So, you have 294 and 515 followers respectively and you know them all as well. Let me ask you this. How do you know that one of your friends’ friends or siblings or cousins doesn’t have a rap sheet 4 miles long? How do you know that one of these followers hasn’t downloaded the photos you post and shared it on sites you wouldn’t want to be associated with? How do you know that not a single one of these followers is tracking what you do, where you are, who you are with?”
The floodgates of defense open and I hear…”I turned my location setting off on my phone”, “my mom checks my Instagram account every week”, “I just post pictures of goofy things, nothing anyone would want to download”, “I block anyone who comments too much or who I don’t trust”.
Whoa. They really feel invincible. We had a brief discussion about the fact that you don’t always have to have your location setting enabled for someone to be able to tell where the photo was taken. And, if you block someone after the fact, it may be too late- they could have already downloaded and shared any or all of your photos. Without trying to preach, and since I was really on a mission for information that I could turn into meaningful private conversations with them later, I did mention that any photo they choose to post should always portray them and/or their friends in their best possible light. Don’t post anything silly or goofy or inappropriate, understanding that EVERYTHING you post is public to anyone who choose to find it. I plan to revisit this in more detail with each of them, showing them at the computer how easy it is to find out all sorts of things about people based on their online carelessness. I also plan to have a conversation with them about the value behind being CHOOSY. There is no need to have 500 or 800 followers- none whatsoever, unless you are a celebrity of some type. And, I’m pretty sure none of these kiddos are celebrity status yet!
Next question: Have you ever witnessed someone being mean or cruel to someone else on Facebook or Instagram?
Answer (in unison) – “Yes.” A 100% yes with no hesitation. That’s scary stuff.
Question: What have you seen?
15 yr old- “Just mean girl drama.”
12 yr old- “Mom, don’t you remember the Instagram account we had to report?” (I do- it was some account she found as she was surfing the accounts that she follows. That somehow led her to a horrific account that seemed to exist to spread hateful information about a person, suggesting suicide. She came to me thankfully, asking if we should do something. We reported it, and it was removed.)
Other kids: “Just mean comments.” “But if someone is mean, you can block them.”
Wow, they are taking this with a grain of salt, as if cyber bullying is a normal, expected part of social media. Note to self: add cyber bullying to the subsequent private conversations. Although all of these kids know what cyber bullying is, I don’t believe parents can over-communicate the importance of being a leader online by building others up that you follow or friend, as well as knowing how to identify and report cyber bullying you might observe.
With just a few key questions, I uncovered a wealth of information. Hearing about their online lives through their words is invaluable, because it gives me the right framework for further conversations. Conversations that should be as regular for us as parents as the questions we are used to asking them about their day. My eyes were opened to their online social lives- reality for them and a teachable moment for me.
Stay tuned. More on my social media conversation with this same group of kids in the next post…..