- Our Town
Be your kid’s co-pilot
Facebook is for dinosaurs, and parents are likely to have a very hard time keeping up with their kids appetite for mobile communication technologies. So says Jesse Miller, an internet safety consultant who visted Bowen Island this week and spoke with kids a BICS and IPS, and then to their parents. While parents can’t expect to be experts, Miller wants them to be open to learning, and letting their kids guide them through the technology. “Let them be your co-pilot,” says Miller. “But it’s up to you, as an adult with more life experience to help your kid navigate the dangers.”
In talking to kids in grades 4, 5 and 6 at BICS, Miller says their use of social media technologies is not so different from kids their age elsewhere in BC.
“With the younger kids, I don’t teach them about social media until they teach us,” says Miller. “So I start by asking somewhat leading question. I tell them that I’m a Dad and that I’m visiting a community and if I wanted to send pictures to my daughter, how would I do that? And so they tell me I could use Facebook, you can use Instagram… a lot of the kids I talked to told me they used these tools, it’s okay with their parents.”
The slightly older kids are more active on social media, particularly with programs like Instagram and Snapchat.
“It’s their version of polaroid film. Polaroids for a previous generation were pictures you could take without them being viewed by some guy at the store,” Miller explains. “With SnapChat you can send a picture and you can write a little message or draw on it, and then once it’s received, it disappears within 10 seconds. The fact that the picture deletes itself makes kids more confident in sharing. The fact that the photo might still exist for say, police records, doesn’t cross their minds. But this information never really goes away. Kids don’t think about that. Really, neither do most adults.”
Miller says he finds a lot of parents to be wary of these tools, but he encourages them to learn about them and try to open up a conversation about social media in general.
“When our kids are little, we teach them to speak, and as we do so every family creates a set of expectations about communication - what’s considered polite and appropriate, for example. The same kind of expectations need to be set for the way kids - and adults - communicate online.”
Miller says that simply asking questions can push kids to think about their online communications in a more critical way - like whether or not they would say the things they say online to someone’s face.
“A lot of kids hold the number of followers they have like a badge of honour,” says Miller. “They’re not shy about admitting to me that their ‘friends;’ are often people they don’t know in real life. So I ask, how would you feel if a stranger came up to you at a bus stop and said they liked your pictures? Everyone agrees that’s creepy.”
While Miller advocates asking questions, he doesn’t advocate treating the topic of social media like “the Spanish Inquisition.” He also doesn’t encourage parents to try and follow their kids’ every move on social media.
“You need to have a certain level of respect for private space. These kids treat these accounts like extensions of their diaries, this is where they talk about the people they like and their feelings, but what they don’t realize is that there’s a whole world that can look in at those conversations. As parents, we need to understand that we were kids once too and we made mistakes, but the mistakes our kids are going to make online today are going to be there for a long time, and anyone can look them up.”