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Teaching Our Kids Not to Treat the Internet as a Private Diary

03/22/2013 08:37 EDT | Updated 05/22/2013 05:12 EDT
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I stumbled onto Tumblr the other day and I browsed the content. It was mostly teen content, reblogs of jokes, inspiring sayings and images, weird videos etc. Most of it seemed harmless enough but once I dug deeper I became more disturbed.

One girl wrote of the pressure she felt to perfect. Skinny, straight As, s star athlete. She also wrote about being the daughter of divorced parents: a strict father, an alcoholic mother and living with a brother battling Type 1 Diabetes. Another wrote dark poetry about her thoughts of suicide, broken friendships and relationships. More often than not, for every post there were at least 30 "notes." On Tumblr, these notes are "likes" or "reblogs" and sometimes comments. This article conveys the essence of why teens are on Tumblr:

These teens come to Tumblr to learn and discuss subjects outside of the classroom, the locker room, the hallway and social events. Stories of divorce. Stories of depression and pain. Stories they wouldn't tell to anyone.

I quietly shook my head as I wrote this post on Twitter:

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It occurred to me after reading a post from my friend Jure Klepic: Will Bang With Friends Bring Klout to its Climax, that companies continue to manipulate the vulnerabilities of adolescence and entice them to disclose "far too personal" information on the web.

The Need for Validation

Then came another article, "Students Tell All on Anonymous Facebook Pages." The confessions are curated by students, and unofficially links the content to certain universities. The content you find on Confessions of a Uni Student on Facebook range from tame and rueful to very raunchy and downright mean. The article, however, goes on to claim, that this is a "confession craze captivating teenagers and 20-somethings -- but alarms teachers, law enforcement officers and counsellors."

My daughter uses Tumblr. She is well aware of the dangers of over-disclosure and unfortunately has had some early experience that put her at the centre of some online bullying. Why she uses Tumblr is very much the reason why many teens go there. As one anonymous user indicated here:

I like the idea of my voice being heard somewhere where people care, so I make it heard in an environment with users who will curiously read what I have to say solely out of interest. Doing so brings me a sort of joy, that people care or agree with the things I say, that I really can't get anywhere else.

I get that kids need an outlet to vent. I get that kids need to be with others who understand what they're going through. I get that kids need validation but this world of social has created an environment that eventually strings them along a path to a point where the very information they created can be their greatest demise.

A friend of mine, Marci Warhaft-Nadler, founder of FitVsFiction had this to say when I showed her the Facebook Confessions article,

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Kids Don't Care or Are they Unaware of the Need for Privacy?

My kids have grown up with the Internet. It's their source of entertainment, information and communication. They don't know how to live without it. When I was younger, all my thoughts were kept in my private diary. My mother would kill to find out what I wrote within those pages. I kept a lot of that to myself and on occasion I would tell a close friend, if I needed to. These days that diary has been replaced by a public message board that can't necessarily be erased.

I read somewhere that it's not that kids don't care. Like, all of us experience, it's that the consequences of their action are separated from the action itself. So, while I indulge in my favourite french fries with a nice dose of salt, I don't think about how that impacts my health later in life. If I smoke a pack of cigarettes now, does that mean that I'm going to get lung cancer in later years? We all, to some extent, live for today. From this perspective it's no wonder why teens do what they do. They just have different mechanisms now to speak their mind.

Facebook Trains Us to Disclose for the Almighty Dollar

The world of social media has allowed platforms like Facebook and Twitter to play on the human need for reinforcement and validation. It's game mechanics for "Likes" and "Comments" are those bits of validation that satisfies. In a way, Facebook is training all who use Facebook, to disclose more information about us. The more we embroider the account of our daily lives, the more social reinforcement we receive. We satisfy our own needs. In turn, Facebook accumulates more information that continuously stitches together a tighter and richer view of who we are.

I am a marketer and these rich profiles are what we, as marketers, crave. We want to know more about you so we can connect with you and sell you stuff. And we are willing to pay Facebook more if the information we get in return makes it easier to sell our products.

I am a mother as well so I see both sides of the coin. Big data is a huge topic these days. Everyone talks about its merits and the amount of insight we can glean from the billions of actions and post on social networks, mobile devices on a daily basis. While it has it merits there has to be controls. We need to ask the question, "Why do you need to know this?"

We Need to Arm the Next Generation

The Internet has yet to grow up. As it quickly evolves we have to somehow get it to a place that preserves our relationships and our information and our secrets. We need to teach our kids to be aware of their privacy settings. We need to arm them with the knowledge of information that's collected from cookies, their cell phones, from RFID. They need to know about phishing and identity theft.

I found this on Writingya. It's poignant and it says it all.

The problem is that we have not created a privacy culture on the Internet that we can live with. We created the wrong one. What I think about is: What is intimacy without privacy? What is a democracy without privacy?...Technology makes people stupid. It can blind you to what your underlying values are and need to be.

This next generation needs to know their privacy rights. They need to fight for them...much more than we are doing today. More than anything, they need to be increasingly aware of the consequences of their actions.

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