What if social media had training wheels?

Here’s a thought:

What if there was a safe way to introduce children to social media?

I’ve written a lot about the fact that parents in my generation are ultimately the first generation of ‘electronic parents’.  We didn’t grow up with cell phones, the internet, or social media.  We played records, talked on a phone connected to the wall, and had no idea technology would progress to the point it is in our lifetimes. Our kids, however, are getting cell phones at about the age we were getting Atari- or our first stereo or ‘ghetto blaster’.

When I set up my Facebook account in 2008, I knew about cyber bullying, and I even knew of a tragic local case that resulted in suicide over cyber bullying on a MySpace account. I knew enough that I didn’t want my kids using Facebook.  But, I was amazed at the number of kids I knew who sent friend requests, or who talked about having a Facebook account.  Pretty soon, the same kids were on to Instagram, Twitter, and the list begins.  It happened so fast for many of us parents, that we didn’t have the time or the information to keep our kids from discovering these apps and using them on their own.

My own example…

I have a personal example of this with my oldest daughter.  I told her there was no way she was going to have a Facebook account, when she first asked at age 11 (about 5 years ago).  I felt that there was NOTHING good or productive about it for an 11 year old.  Eventually, however, she discovered Instagram.  She had no idea there were privacy settings or that it was critical to enable them. She attracted a follower (aka creepy strange man we didn’t know) who felt compelled to comment on her photos.  Luckily, she came to me, and we addressed the situation.  I didn’t know Instagram was on her phone.  Should I have?  Maybe. But it had only been on there a matter of days and she goes back and forth between my house and her dad’s house.  This actually turned into a coaching and learning opportunity about social media in general for her.  Her accounts now are private- and I thank the Good Lord that nothing worse happened.  Because, quite simply, it has for many kids.

Who makes the rules?

Can you imagine what the roads would be like with a bunch of 11 year olds driving who hadn’t been trained?! Imaging the statistics.  When kids learn about social media on their own, they also make up the rules.  The propensity for cyber bullying increases, resulting in damaged self esteems and sometimes, even suicide.  Further, the knowledge about what to share or not to share is virtually nonexistent. We’ve all seen stories in our localities and nationally, especially recently, about teens tweeting their way out of a scholarship, a job, or a college opportunity.  And, I would venture a guess that everyone reading this has at least one young Facebook friend who has posted something that made you cringe- or question why such information was shared publicly.

So, I have to wonder.  What would it look like if there was a social media application, useful for adults and kids alike, that put parents in the driver’s seat? Provided a set of, perhaps, “training wheels” for parents to choose when and how to introduce children to social media and to guide the experience so as to have the opportunity to teach appropriate sharing and protocol from the beginning.

Hmmmm…we might be on to something.  Stay tuned….