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I recently facilitated a social media awareness class titled “Friend Me” for a summer enrichment program. My objective was to encourage the group to be better friends online and to be more self-aware of the things they view, post, like and comment on.

I was stunned at the mindset of these young boys. As a high school guidance counselor, I thought I previously saw it all. But it was mindblowing to look into their eyes as they opened up about receiving nude pics as often as we wish someone a happy birthday on Facebook.

Speaking to the youth and witnessing their body language and the sincere naivete in their eyes opened a window of compassion. The fact that I was able to spend a little time with them allowed me to learn that this digital free-for-all was simply their norm. The candid conversations we had after we read the chapter that had to do with sexting from the book Followed – Who’s Following You? painted a picture different from the one that I preconceived. I had concluded that when I got on the topic of sexting, they were going to be a bunch of cocky kids bragging about exploiting girls. What I learned was that these were good kids, just doing what kids (today) do. One kid that admittedly received a nude pic, told us that the girl was only 11 years young and he’s 12. I didn’t want to appear judgmental, so I canceled a large percentage of my displeasure. However, I did in fact, express that we have to respect women and in respecting women, we respect ourselves and that “asking” for that type of pic, is not in that vain.

All in all, it was a revealing and candid experience getting to know why our youth think the way they do, which is all the more reason that online etiquette needs to be some kind lesson plan in school.

My takeaways…

  1. I was first surprised that their overall outlook on receiving and sharing nudes was so laissez-faire. Not until I presented a scenario that included their sister as the possible sender of the pic (if applicable) did they realize how people could get hurt. They were also clueless to the fact that based on the sender’s age, they could be involved in child pornography. Lastly, there was a strong consensus that the ownness was squarely on the girl. Many expressed a definitive shift in blame towards the sender.
  2. Catfishing online. They had never heard of this and couldn’t believe this was happening.
  3. The students were shocked at how easy it was to lure an unsuspecting person to meet face to face.
  4. The fact that their digital tattoo could hinder their scholastic and career hopes and dreams. They were unaware that all their online behavior is saved in cyberspace to be inconveniently brought back up when they had something to lose.
  5. No one could explain what a #hashtag did.

I was genuinely surprised.

Well, until I saw this…

This is all tough on parents, but to that I say, stay encouraged and active in your child’s social media persona. I encourage you to get your children’s social media account username and login information, as well as performing random smartphone audits. Which consist of looking at the apps they have and text messages. Something my wife and I do with our children. To the parent that might find this a wee bit intrusive, you have to ask yourself, do you want to prevent drama or fix drama? Because all a “friend” of theirs has to do is screen-shoot a compromising conversation to start unwarranted torment.

Godspeed,

Cory

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