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One's Entire Life on the Internet

Sometime last week The Teenager were having dinner. As part of my work, I'm creating activities about Cyber Bullying and recruited some real world help from The Teenager.

She said, that the big rule for her, is "Don't say anything on line that you would not say to the person's face in real life." She applied this to mean and to snarky comments, but also to Facebook status memes that attempt to pressure people into commenting on your status and then to post it as their status.

She said, "Imagine you are at a party, and someone walks up to you and says: "Hi - friendships are very important to me, I always love and honour my friends because they are the most important people in the world. If you really love your friends, give me a hug and turn around and say this to everyone else too." - it sounds like emotional blackmail, like they are needy and controlling, and you probably would not want to be friends with them." I too hate these memes, and suddenly liked the idea of imagining you were saying your Facebook status out loud at a party. Of course, you have to think about who is at your party - I keep my Facebook profile wide open, and so I know everyone, including my parents, other relatives, co-workers and young people - it's kind of like a wedding there, complete with wedding crashers. I didn't have an open bar at my wedding, and we did not let just anyone have the mike - similarly, not everyone can post to my Facebook wall. Sure, anyone can see anything, but I want to be able to control the content.

The teenager also has some strong feelings about the "never post pictures"  advice and the "imagine what your future employer will think" advice that many adults dole out to teens about how to behave on-line. She went on to say that she had lived her whole life on the internet - she got a Facebook account when she was 13 and that employers are going to have to recognize that people who were on line at 13 will exhibit some jeuvenile behaviour. She's right. We expect juvenile behavour from young people, and we need to recognize that learning how to behave and have relationships (all kinds) on-line is an extension of learning those skills in real life. We expect that young people are learning, and we allow them some latitude. I think there are some things to avoid, and I have occasionally let her know if there is something that I am concerned about. She also said that anyone her age should have their Facebook locked down tight, so they can control who sees what. For me there is a balance between letting young people make their own mistakes and learn from them, and being available to help them do the learning and resolving part. Tight security controls, with some trusted adults in the mix.

I got stuck on the line that "she had lived her whole life on line".

I argued that actually she had not lived her whole life on line - but The Small Person has. The Small Person was expected on line, here, on this blog, and on Facebook; mine, my partner's and those of other significant people in the Small Person's life. We posted pictures of The Small Person when he was all fresh and new. We continue to write about him and talk about him. He continues to come with us to conferences, where he wants to introduce himself to people and delights in making new friends. Last night he played "chairing the meeting" at home, which should tell you a bit about his world. He began by announcing the agenda. He tried to not end the meeting as a tactic of stalling bed time. I do think about The Small Person reading all these things we have written about him. I think about his future friends, and their parents, and others reading it, and I work hard to make sure what I write is always kind about all the people he knows now and will in the future.

I keep thinking about what does it mean to have lived your whole life on line?

I think about who has the power to curate his on-line image, how that is shifting, and how that will continue to shift. While I did not ask his baby-self for permission to take pictures, or to post them on-line, I always do now. There was an outfit he wore a week ago that I wanted a picture of, and he did not want photographed - and thus I have no evidence of it. I think about this as modeling consent. Sometimes he asks me to share a photograph, and whether he asked me to share, or I asked him and he said yes, I usually read him the comments. This feels like the work of media literacy - I can teach him that one should always ask before taking a photograph, and that if asked, it's okay to say no. I can teach him that one should ask before sharing a photograph, and that again, it's okay to say no. I can teach him choices about who an image is shared with - do we text it to one person? a small group? or post it on line? I can teach him that people will see things that are posted on line, and help him think about the implications of this. At three and a half the most advanced technology I could operate was my Fisher Price toy record player - he can use the ipad fairly independently. His experience of technology is and will always be different than mine, and yet my job is to best prepare him for his future in the unknown. As a parent, I hoping I'm not messing it up too badly.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Twoey Gray
29th Oct, 2013 20:53 (UTC)
I agree with The Teenager (probably because I am, in fact, a teenager). I feel like I grew up online, in a different way than the Small Person. My baby pictures certainly weren't on facebook. For our generation, the internet was something we had and our parents didn't, and that was a blessing and a curse. By age 8 or 9 I'd say most of my peers had surpassed their parents knowledge of computers (although many parents have since caught up). I distinctly remember some choice msn conversations at birthday parties in grade 2 and 3...since our parents had no context of internet etiquette, they couldn't have taught us how to act. It was like a scene out of "Mean Girls". On instant messaging, hordes of kids could easily spy on "private" conversations, granted they were sitting next to one of the participants. Not one of my prouder moments. For a lot of us, the internet could be liberating - we developed our identities and sexualities from what we read online, learned things that aren't taught in schools or talked about by parents - but it could also be used to hurt us. In grades 5 and 6, my classmates were being coerced into going naked on webcam for strangers. Our parents had no idea. So I think that the Small Person, in one sense, might have the tiniest advantage, in that nowadays parents are more sensitive to the dangers of growing up online and what kind of things are out there. But then again there are going to be different challenges for him that we don't know about yet. I do think you're setting the best foundation to tackle those challenges though.
30th Oct, 2013 03:46 (UTC)
I *love* that your small person played chairing the meeting and announcing the agenda. I also love how you're instilling media awareness and consent at this age, and empowering your Small Person. I worry too about my kids growing up online, but it never even occurred to me how I might empower them and educate them now.

I've been thinking about how having one's life on line is somewhat simiilar to oral traditions, and I remembered the BC native land claim settlement where the Supreme Court deemed that the natives oral traditions, was an acceptable documentation of the traditional use of particular tracts of land. I'm still thinking about how to flesh out the comparison between oral traditions and on line story sharing.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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