Having been around high school students for as long as I have, it’s clear that our notion of privacy has changed over the past twenty years. I remember talking to my students about Napster in class, around 2000, as many of them, I knew, were finding ways to access their favorite music online. We discussed copyright. Talking with strangers. And not putting too much information out on the Internet to avoid risk.
Then came MySpace. Personally, I was shocked when I saw what high school age kids were posting. In hindsight, some of them were smarter than others (covering their faces), but click around long enough, and you’d find pictures of kids acting goofy, with friends. That was what I’d considered normal. But then you’d inevitably find those photos or kids posing online pictures with bottles of alcohol.
“Look at me,” I bet they thought. “Look at what I got.”
Click some more into the circle of that kid’s friends, and it was more of the same. More empty cans of beer, bigger bottles of vodka. This was in the day that there was no real veil of privacy, everything was out in the open. I remember leading a professional development session this way, finding a random kid somewhere in the US, and then we clicked and clicked until we found something that shocked us. It never took too long.
Then Facebook became cool for high school kids and offered everyone the belief that whatever they posted they were in control of. “Just don’t share it with anyone, you can limit stuff just to your friends.”
Personally, I was a sceptic. I’d been collecting stories at this point of adults and kids getting in trouble with online behavior. At one point, I had a whole file folder of printed stories (I know, I’m sorry trees) about the dangers of sharing information online. I used them in classes for teachers so they could all spread the news but also protect themselves. Be careful, don’t think anything is really private.
It has always been curious to me how many non-believers there are. That Facebook is fine, that their protections were safe. That nothing could happen. Not to me.
More stories came out. About how Facebook messed up, and unknown numbers of “private” photos and video clips had been exposed. They kept changing their privacy filters and settings. “Must be getting better,” anyone would have been led to believe.
And today, in 2019, Facebook seems to have transitioned to the network preferred by our parents. But I only use it as an example because it’s been around for so long and is a mainstay in our culture. But even video game usage can produce threats to our kids.
At several points this past year at Goochland High School, I’ve heard kids in the hall yell out to one another about connecting through social networks. “Snap me,” a girl said. “Snap me,” I repeated. I rolled my eyes. They think that disappearing things on that network is another veil of safety. Read: Why Your Teenager Loves Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube
As I’ve talked to some parents of younger kids, who one day will be high school age, they’re very worried about what they hear. I hate to be blunt, but they’re asking questions like “is it still illegal to text someone nude photos?”
“Yes. I mean, for kids to do it. Isn’t it child pornography?”
I nod. “Why are you—?”
“I’ve heard it’s a thing. Kids sending one another those types of photos.”
Here’s the thing. I can dig up statistics. Or stories about why we shouldn’t trust the privacy settings of social networks to keep us safe. And I’m not against social networking or video games. Just know 1) they’re not all the same, and 2) anything can likely be abused. I’m not sure, as an educator, how effective these warnings are with today’s students. But I’ll say it anyway: putting revealing photos of yourself through anything digital, either a Snapchat, a text, through Instagram, or whatever, it’s gone as soon as you hit “send.” After that, you’ve lost control.
So many times when we cover these topics at school kids are unison in agreement. “You shouldn’t do this, or do that.” They’ve heard that. But if the statistics are true, some kids are still doing it.
Then something hit me. What if kids just don’t care? I’m not a teenager, and I don’t communicate with teens through social networks. I’m not a parent, I don’t have any first hand experience. But I think it’s an interesting question that parents should consider when they review the cell phone bill each month.
- What is my child doing with this tool?
- What are my child’s thoughts about privacy?
I can’t be sure which social theory captures it best, but I do know kids want to belong to something. They need social groups to gain a sense of belonging. And it’s not necessarily just one.
“Are you saying my child doesn’t feel like she’s/he’s part of our family?”
No. But the social groups students join, leave, and re-join are each identifiable by beliefs and behaviors that at least in your child’s mind, makes that group feel unique. Students have “families” outside of the one in your house. They can have friends at church, friends in a school club, from a sports team, as part of a summer camp experience. Students are wired to find others they share interests with.
So what happens within a circle of friends where one or more members don’t feel images of their bodies are worth something to protect? Peer pressure is a powerful force. And that pressure in itself isn’t always bad. Being part of a social group can expose a child to the pressure of thinking of others over self. Or supporting one another through the drama of growing up.
But it can also mean taking a drink because everyone else is, or sending exposing photos because everyone else is doing it too.
Despite whatever group-think is taking place, disconnecting from a group can be very difficult for kids to do.
I think it’s paramount that parents understand the power of the digital tools that have become ubiquitous in our society. I am hoping the following resources are helpful in better understanding that cellphones are a lot like knives. Some parents give their kids knives and used the right way, it’s a helpful tool. But knives can also cut. The problem with sharp edge of social networking and social gaming is the cut isn’t necessarily felt. Sometimes not at all, or sometimes days after a post is made. And then it’s too late.
- Have a younger cyber-surfer? Check out Google’s Safety Center and Google Interland
- Parent’s Ultimate Guide to Snapchat
- Parent’s Ultimate Guide to TikTok
- Parent’s Ultimate Guide to Parental Controls
- Parents — Facebook Not as Private As you Think
- Don’t Trust Facebook’s New Privacy Play
- Teens Need to Learn to Manage Risk
We are currently planning an event for parents this fall tied to these topics. Stay tuned on the Goochland County Schools’ homepage for details in August.