Social Media Bootcamp

Article at a glance:

  • Sharing too much personal information online leaves us vulnerable to exploitation, identity theft, and stalking.
  • Take care of your online reputation by only posting things that you would be comfortable with a future employer seeing.
  • Treat people online with the same kindness you would treat them in the real world.

Social media is an important part of our children’s social lives. According to the Pew Research Center, 71 percent of teens report using more than one social media site. More than ever, parents need to be sure their children know how to navigate this tricky terrain.

While we don’t recommend yelling or pushups, we’ve put together a quick boot camp on things like privacy, online reputation, and safety. We encourage you to use these as talking points or to kick start a conversation.

Keep it private

Not everybody has our best interests at heart. Handing out too much personal information can leave us vulnerable. For example, photos can end up on pornography sites, be turned into an embarrassing meme, or be used to advertise products without your permission. Sharing things like your last name, birthplace, birthday, address, phone number, family relations, and other personal information can open us up to identity theft or stalking. It is easy to think it will never happen to you, but it does happen to people all the time. Why take the risk?

First, you will want to make sure your information is private. Check your account’s privacy controls and keep up to date on any changes to the privacy policy. Remember, even if your account is private, anything you share can be republished or shared by somebody else. Instead of worrying about who might get a hold of your personal information, it is better not to share it.

Second, make sure your photos aren’t geotagged. Many smartphones add the location where the photo was taken to the photo’s file, making it easy for people to see exactly where you are or were. Creepy. Also, be aware of any identifiable information in the background, for example, your school’s name, the gym you go to, or the address on the front of your house.

Third, be careful with giveaways or online questionnaires. A free iPhone might be tempting and you may be dying to find out which Disney prince is your soulmate, but both schemes are likely ploys to access your personal information or to connect to your social media account.

Take care of your online reputation

What happens online, doesn’t stay online. When we post something, we no longer have control of where it goes or who sees it. Even if you delete it, somebody may have taken a screenshot. If you only share it with a few friends, one of them might share it with somebody else and things spread fast online. In fact, the media is full of stories of famous celebrities or successful business people who slipped up online and faced serious consequences. Be careful. Ask yourself if this is something you would want a future employer or college to see?

People aren’t always who they seem

The profile photo on an account may be of a cute, 16-year-old teenage girl, but you have no idea who the account really belongs to. You might be communicating with a creepy, middle-aged man. It is easy to pretend to be somebody else on social media and lots of people do. Only friend people on social media if you know them in the real world. Don’t meet up with people you meet on social media, even if you feel like you know them well online. Don’t share your phone number or address online. Just because you aren’t face-to-face with somebody doesn’t mean you don’t need to be cautious.

Respect other’s feelings

Sometimes we feel detached from people when we interact online because we can’t see them. Remember to treat others with the same kindness you would treat them in the real world. Respect others’ opinions. Disagreeing with somebody doesn’t mean you get to be unkind. It’s easy to get sucked into online drama, but your best bet is to walk away.

It is also important to not unintentionally exclude others by what you post. For example, if you invite a few friends over to your house and post photos of you having a good time, friends who didn’t get invited might feel bad. And before posting a photo of somebody, ask yourself if that person would like that photo to be shared.

Be aware that by posting things online, you might also be opening yourself up to criticism and hurtful comments. Be careful what you post and understand the forum and potential risks.

Cyberbullying is never okay

Bullying is not okay, no matter where or how it occurs. We never know somebody’s full story or the effect that our actions will have on them. Cyberbullying can be especially hurtful because it can happen 24 hours a day, not only at school. If you are being bullied, it is not your fault. Talk to a trusted adult so that together you can figure out how to resolve the problem.

Your actions have real-world consequences

Sometimes online we feel like we can be somebody else and do things we would never do in real-life. But being online doesn’t make you exempt from real-world consequences. Use good judgment and act online how you would act in real-life.

Don’t forget to connect with people

Having lots of friends online is different than having friends in real-life. It is important to have close friends we can connect with and rely on. Make time for those relationships. And remember that personal and important conversations are better had face-to-face. For example, it is never okay to break up with somebody or to call a friend out on social media.

Give yourself a break

There are lots of good things about social media, but it is not healthy to be constantly connected. Give yourself some space to think and disconnect—maybe even take a vacation from social media for a day. Experts also recommend we leave our smartphones out of our bedrooms. We need time to sleep and having our phone close by has been shown to reduce the amount of sleep we get at night.

What happens online doesn’t determine your self-worth

It does not matter how many followers you have or how many people like your photo. Make sure you are developing a healthy self-esteem independent of your social media presence.

Much of social media centers around superficial things like how you look, but this is a small and unimportant piece of who we are. Instead, use social media to connect with people who have similar hobbies and interests.

Remember that what you see on social media is not reality. People only post the best parts of their lives, and like a selfie, only show the most attractive angles. Don’t allow what happens online to define who you are or how you feel about yourself.

Talk to a trusted adult if you need help

Social media isn’t always a warm and fuzzy place. If you see something inappropriate, witness bullying, or have questions, talk to a trusted adult. They can help answer questions or figure out the best course of action to take. We may be used to asking for help in real-life, but forget that what happens online can be just as important.

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