My niece and nephew are grounded from the internet and so won’t be able to get mad at me for posting this.
Yesterday I was recruited to talk to them (6th and 8th grade respectively) about a nuclear war that raged last week in their apartment. The topic? Online social media. Their mom caught both with Instagram accounts and my nephew with a Facebook account boasting over 400 friends, lax privacy settings, and exposed personal information about such things as where he went to school. It was an unprecedentedly emotional fight as their mom erased the Instagram accounts and gave my nephew one week to accept her friend request and unfriend all the people he didn’t also know offline. It was one of those fights that are hard to have in a NYC apartment building complete with screaming, crying, and outcries of “I hate you,” “You’re ruining our life” and my personal favorite, “Why are you even our mom?”
While their uncle and I prepared for the discussion with them, we learned that the prevailing attitude among parenting experts is that teenagers should be allowed to have accounts, but that parents should have access and manage the privacy settings. Per www.onlineeducation.net , 72% of moms have internet accounts with 92% being facebook friends with their kids, and almost half checking their kids’ profiles daily. (Sorry, Dads, no stats mentioned for you.)
During our conversation it was clear how liberating and textured their online worlds are. For my niece it’s about self-expression, posting pictures of her favorite nail polish and skaters. For my nephew, it’s about developing private friendships that he doesn’t have the time or access to do at school. So, no surprise that they use social media like we all do – as a way to complement their offline lives and express themselves to a larger audience while controlling their image. But for preteens, in that awkward adolescent phase, zitty, stammer-y and old enough to know how much control they don’t have, domain over their domain is critical to their budding independence. Overconfident in their own maturity and savviness, they both completely bristled at the notion that they might post something now that would haunt them in twenty years or hurt somebody’s feelings or that they could fall prey to a catfishing pervert.
For my niece and nephew, Big Mother was knocking on the facebook door. And they did not want to answer.