consultant | speaker | brand manager

Dear Kids On Social Media…

I’m often asked if I’ve always known I wanted to be in the social media industry. Short answer. No. There was no such thing when I was a kid, and holy hell, am I happy about that! Don’t get me wrong, I love social media, but I made bad choices through online forums and chat rooms – who knows what idiocy I would have gotten into if I’d had a smart phone and a Twitter account.

When I speak at schools, kids groan once they realize what I’m there for. Why? Because once kids hit around the 6th grade they’ve decided that social media is their territory – not for anyone “old”. I get it. They know everything, and here I am trying to tell them the same old “how to be safe online” crap.

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Thing is, that’s not exactly how I go about it. Let’s face it. Pretty much everyone is on social media, and when you meet someone who isn’t, don’t we all have a moment of mistrust? Who is this person that we can’t cyber stalk? Is that just me? Well, we’ll leave that for another day.  My discussions are geared towards the age of the classroom. I don’t like big presentations because every school and every class is different. I’ve talked in younger classrooms (4th grade) and got all the eye rolls. In that particular class, there were several kids who were trying to get “likes” on Instagram. I asked the big question – WHY?  Here’s two of their answers:

1. Because I want to feel like I’m beautiful and more people will like my posts.

2. Because sometimes I just want to feel like someone likes me.

You have no idea how much my heart hurt and I wanted to hug these 9 year old kids. That’s when I realized my discussion about social media had to change. I already knew spouting off the same old lecture would never get through, but to hear the WHY (and it’s not always the same) helps me talk to them about the importance of safety. It also helps me talk to them about how in the future (beyond fourth grade) they can use social media to help them get a job. How bad choices and foul mouthed tweets or pictures of themselves doing bad things will affect their career in the future. How I’ve worked with agencies to screen people through their social media presence and how on paper these people look great, but online they look like a hot mess.

The sad thing is – these people are probably NOT a hot mess. They are sharing good times (or bad moments) and not knowing how to target audiences. They don’t know how to keep it private and to share with a select group of people. Most of them don’t realize that if we are friends on Instagram, I can see every comment or like they do to someone else’s pictures if I’m so inclined to spend that much of my day checking things out. I help them see that a public post on their Facebook wall, meant only for their 100 friends, can easily be shared to anyone’s friends – because it’s a public setting… and I show them how easily it is for me to find them online even though none of them knew I’d be looking. And how easily for some I can track their locations.

At the end of the day though, those two questions haunt me. I pray my kids will never feel like they have to have online “likes” to be liked – but let’s be honest. How many times have you posted something you found witty or hilarious and wondered why it didn’t get more likes? How many times did it get the likes and comments and you couldn’t help wasting so much time reading and seeing how many people liked your photo? Our children are often reflections of ourselves, and that’s when I realize that sometimes we need to take a break (kind of what I did the last two years – focused on the work I had and not looking for more) …because my kids were at an impressionable age where they needed to see that mom is more than what her notifications say she is.

So dear kids on social media. Be good to yourselves. People can easily be mean or nice online, and they call it “fakebook” for a reason. If you’re writing something out and you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read it – you probably should just keep it to yourself for now. If you’re old enough to look for a job, go through your profiles and tidy things up. Don’t apply and not get a job just because you’ve got one too many pictures that your future boss has no reason to ever see.

You are worth more than a “like”. You are more than #TeamFollowBack says you are – and what you might not realize at this young age is that there are ways to make fake bots to give you likes or to buy followers – so that friend of yours who has 10,000 likes for some random duck face picture and bats her lashes that she’s going to be a model one day? Sure. Maybe she will be, but if she wants it, she’s going to have to work for it. Don’t be a 14 year old girl begging for someone to think you’re pretty and end up with a handful of men in their 20s-30s following you on Instagram. Don’t think that your worth lies in the clicks of strangers – and worse than that, don’t let the strangers know where you’re going to be later in the day. 

Be good to yourself. If for no other reason, than this old woman who plays on social media told you to do it.

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