As part of our ongoing Thoughtful Series, our Middle School students recently attended a presentation on online behavior. The presenter, Jeff Rushton, is a consultant with over 20 years of experience in digital marketing. And right from the start it was apparent he was going to take a no-nonsense, real-world approach, which works extremely well with Middle School students. They often feel they are “up” on everything in social media, but too often are misinformed. He dispelled some common beliefs and gave them plenty to digest and think about regarding their current and future online habits. Here are a few highlights from his presentation: 

  • All social networks that exist have been hacked. A great example of this is Snapchat, in which 98,000 photos and videos that were supposed to have “disappeared” were shared with strangers. He also told the students not to believe the promises that social media apps make about privacy.
  • To that point, he advised our students not to engage with a new social media platform for 6 – 12 months to ensure the new platform’s security is properly set up.
  • You don’t own the information you put on the internet – you’re the shared owner with the app you’re using.
  • Your data can definitely impact your future! He showed the sad example of a group of high school students accepted into Harvard who lost that incredible opportunity due to their past social media posts.
  • Likewise, some teens and young adults have lost employment opportunities for the same reason.
  • So how should a teen protect him/herself? He offered these tips:
    • Don’t post mean or bullying comments about others.
    • Likewise, don’t post inappropriate pictures or videos.
    • Instead, focus on the positive! Post about your “awesomeness” and things that will make the world a better place.
  • And what should parents do?
    • Look up your teen’s Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media accounts once a month.
    • Look through your child’s phone. Have them turn it off, then back on, to reset any secret apps.
    • Remember that parental controls don’t cover everything. New sites are always starting up and gaining popularity.

The “scary” nature of his presentation startled some of our younger students and Julie Marks addressed them after the talk to calm their fears. And I was pleased to hear from several of our parents that their children came home with a different attitude about social media and wanted to talk about it! The bottom line is that if teens are responsible online citizens, they really don’t have anything to worry about. To be fair, he also talked a good deal about how wonderful this technology is, and how it can provide many opportunities for adolescents. They just need to make informed, positive choices. And this, of course, is a lesson for every aspect of life!