With the advent of another teenager taking her life because of bullying on the web, I felt compelled to act NOW….not tomorrow or sometime in the future. The web and social media are very powerful tools and as readers of this forum you understand that these are the proverbial double edged sword and cut both ways.
We have a worldwide epidemic of young people being devastated by the repercussions of using social web techniques for communication without being trained in their use. How is it that in business we implement social media initiatives of vast complexity, with carefully mapped constraints and yet we allow children full access 24/7 without even rudimentary guidance or instruction?
Parents, are you aware that even if your children don’t actually suffer a severe event like being bullied or having the embarrassment of private photos spread virally around the world that there is plenty going on that could cause real and permanent damage?
Are you aware that those schools that they hope to attend are now investigating applicant’s web backgrounds as well? They can see the conversations your children are having and whom they are associating with. I have nephews and nieces that use language and discuss topics that would make a sailor blush and they do it without the slightest reservation.
Those who HAVE made it through college are finding it very hard to get a job now and don’t understand that employers are ESPECIALLY scouring the social media channels to gain perspective on new members trying to enter a work force that don’t have a work history. What young people say and have said MATTERS!!! And can last for a long time on the web.
Telling your children “just don’t do it” won’t work and neither will spying or trying to lock down machines and accounts. As Dr. Ian Malcolm said in Jurassic Park… “I’m simply saying that life, uh… finds a way”. Kids will find a way around you with relative ease.
The solution is to make them WANT TO use the web in a better way!! But how to do that……………..
Kids want to be taken seriously and be treated as adults across the board. Leverage that desire in your favor by positioning social media as the powerful life changing and shaping force that it is. Set time aside with your children as often as possible but at the least weekly to work with them on ……………………………………wait for it………….(trumpet sounds hailing the next statement)………..
THEIR PERSONAL BRAND!!!!!
Now folks; the fact that you follow or have arrived at this blog means you are in the marketing community or at least general business. You know the value of branding and all its ramifications. Expose your children to the concept and excite them to develop their own personal brand! Teach them how to build a network with people that will help them, mentor and connect them etc. They WILL rise to the challenge as they are being treated as peers and people that have to already take responsibility for their own actions and their future.
Help them create a blog or video channel (yes, a proper one), show them how to generate content that positions them as thought leaders within their age group. Teach them how to expose their blog/channel and promote it to their peers so that this behavior can influence others to learn a new way and realize that the value in social media is not just constantly barking out what they are currently doing or sending out information that does not help them.
Now… you may say “Dwayne, that’s all well and good for parents with youngsters that are just learning how to use the web, but what about those of us with older children that have already been using these tools and even have a deeper understanding of them than we do?”
GREAT POINT there Devils Advocate Dwayne! Yes, my children are 11 and 8 years old and I am in time to affect their view of this world, but others are not as fortunate. In most cases you will require external intervention. Most parents already have a history of fighting with their kids over what they are doing on the web and any efforts as those I have outlined above will be met with suspicion if not outright resistance. But there is a way to get them into the program…….
Back to my course of action……..this blog entry is not my only reaction to the latest child taking her life. I have started developing a course that I will present to parent and youth groups that will not only outline the dangers inherent in the system but teach them a fun and challenging way forward. I will present in a modern way using multimedia with new music and an engaging approach. The last thing you want to do is come off as preaching to young people as they will instantly shut you out.
So here is the challenge to YOU!
First, don’t assume that everything is just fine with your children because nothing severe has happened. If they already have Facebook, Twitter and/or other accounts and they don’t want you as a ‘friend’ on them…… chances are there are conversations going on that should not be occurring on the web. Don’t get me wrong, kids should be able to have private conversations with their friends, just don’t do it on the web. Encourage them to use a phone instead, help them remember that voices are just as good at communicating as their thumbs and these conversations don’t remain as permanent record at the disposal of anybody else that wishes to discover and use the data against them. Enforce the fact that they should ask themselves a simple question prior to posting: “would I mind if my mom, dad and heck my grandma read what I am about to say” and if the answer is no then don’t post it.
Second, run searches on your children’s names on Google and other search engines and see what comes up. Try to see what they are discussing on the web and get an idea if there are already problems out there. You may have to take steps to “scrub” information on the web. Scrubbing is a difficult thing to do and will take effort…..depending on the severity and amount of information found you may actually have to seek professional assistance in this effort. There are many ways to do this yourself if the damage is not extensive and searching for topics such as “how to scrub personal information” will yield quite a bit of information.
Third, obviously YOU do know what you are doing as you are reading a blog dedicated to the subject of social marketing on the web and you can more than likely put together a household social media initiative but others can’t. Identify friends who have children who aren’t as fortunate as you are and see if you can help them understand the problem and at least get them to seek help in getting up to speed. Don’t sit idly by and watch a tragedy happen to someone you know, especially if you could have helped as it can haunt you. If YOU also have children try to help each other implement each other’s plans. The one thing to keep in mind is don’t do it on a whim, discuss the plan of action and get buy in from all those involved. Agree on a good strategy and the tactics you will use to achieve results. Approach this as any good business plan if you hope to succeed.
Lastly, DO NOT TOLERATE anybody that takes delight in being labeled a web troll. These “people” are cowards of the worst kind. They sit behind their anonymous cloak and take pleasure in hurting and destroying people and because of the reach of social media they can do damage on a very large scale. Challenge them and call them out as the insecure degenerates that they are, for in doing so you may enforce somebody whom may be a recent target of their poison and lift their spirit.
Look, it really does “take a village” especially now. As a people we have never been more connected and yet we have never been so isolated in many ways. Look out for each other, be your neighbors’ keeper and most of all keep non virtual face to face communication alive and well.