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“Kids Don’t Understand Privacy Anymore”

A common refrain that I hear from parents that today’s kids “have no regard for privacy!” Their evidence? A teenager’s “rant” on Facebook. An inappropriate divulgence via Twitter. A photo that would be better deleted than shared.

I still remember walking home from 7th grade when a friend said she hated her parents. I had never dared to think something like that, let alone say it aloud. I rolled it around in my head. As I got to know her, I realized she had good reason to be deeply angry with her folks. But communicating her truth to me was private and profound. Now consider the same message, but this time, conveyed via social media. “I hate my parents” could easily be taken as light-hearted or a joke—or it could be much more serious than that.

The fact is that these two “social spaces” are vastly different. The issue is not that kids don’t have a sense of privacy, but instead a lack of understanding about how to manage each one of these terrains. Teaching kids how to manage these distinctions is tricky.

All of this centers around a strong set of values—which parents and other mentors, can model for kids. The new world of social media does mean we all get to ignore our values, but it does require us to help young people navigate how their ideas get filtered and shared through these new means of communication. For instance, you have a sense of when it’s OK to resolve an issue via e-mail, but you also understand when it’s best to have a face-to-face discussion. The issue for kids is no different at its core—it’s just the medium that’s different. The challenge for you lies in the nuances of each communication mechanism, be it Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Stick to your core values. It is OK to emphasize things such as loyalty, but show your kids the difference between the the ways we communicate.

Take for example a situation where you are angry with a friend. You need to vent. You call another friend of yours and do just that. You unload all the details. You feel better. Yes, there’s a risk in this—the “venting” conversation might get back to the first friend. But imagine how different that would be if you instead vented about your friend on your blog or Tumblr—and she discovered the post 3 weeks later? The issue may actually have been resolved in person by now—but social media will “remember.” For all intents and purposes, it’s a permanent record—even though it feels ephemeral.

This is incredibly challenging for kids to understand. So what can you do?

  • Set a social media policy for your family, what can be shared and not shared. Talk about it directly.
  • Walk through hypothetical situations, using real friends and family. That way, your kids will understand it in the context of real empathy and real emotions.
  • Have your kids look for and point out to you things that their peers are doing “wrong.”  This will get them to cast a critical eye on social interactions, using real examples. It gives you a good sense of their judgement.
  • If your child does complain about you on social media, DON’T return the favor. Criticizing your child in your own social media posts is always the wrong way to go. Don’t shoot your child’s laptop.  Do explain why airing this kind of grievances publicly is NOT a good way to resolve family conflict. Look for alternate ways to re-establish trust and communication.

In the comments, please share your experiences with kids and privacy. How do you teach your kids, or your students to understand what to share, where to share and how to communicate their thoughts and feelings with regard to their own privacy as well as privacy for others.

 

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