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(This is the third and last in a series of blogs begun on June 29th. You may want to begin there, “When to Cross the Line”)

So, the middle school boys were having a summer pool party. And they might have gotten a little out of hand. And they might have gotten a little inappropriate. And the mom-chaperone-host might have let it go a bit too far. BUT, when one of the guys started video taping the group’s antics, something went “tilt” inside the mom. She wondered if she should allow the boy to continue filming without the other boys’ permissions.  Her uncertainty points to a whole new digital etiquette which can leave us all scratching our heads.

So, thank goodness that Dr. Marion Underwood at The University of Texas at Dallas and other researchers like her are studying this  important shift in culture! Her studies are showing that a typical middle school kid averages 111 texts/day. . . which puts them right on the teen national average of 3,300+ per month! As much as parents might be concerned about online predators, an equally worrisome result of online posting is school bullying.

With regard to middle school kids and younger, experts are concerned that kids self-discover BEFORE they self-disclose.  In other words, kids need to do the difficult process of figuring out who they are before they display their newly-minted selves for all to see. After all, what if what I post turns out not to be really, truly ME? As hard as it is to believe, kids have trouble understanding the concept of “reputation,” the lasting image that others have of you, the one they use to decide how they’ll relate to you. . . or IF they will! So, as parents, it’s good for us to know that “reputation” is an important part of guiding our kids on online use.

Dr. Underwood makes the point that good parents guide their kids in new locations in life. . . what to expect, what to wear, how to behave, what are accepted manners. To provide that “techno-socialization,” Dr. Underwood offers guidelines. She begins with the premise,

If I give you access, I give you guidance.

(I wonder, does the reverse apply at your house:

If you violate/ignore guidance, do I remove access?)

  Here are some tips from Dr. Underwood’s “Conduct for Digital Citizenship:”

1. Before you post anything anywhere, ask, “Is it kind, honest, necessary?” “Is anyone going to be hurt by this?” A good example would be the impact of someone seeing pictures of a party to which they were not invited. Note: Remember your mom’s advice about not talking about the party around folks who’d not been included?

2. Pay attention to safety and risk. This includes not only, “Mom and I are at the mall having a great time!” which equates to an invitation to burglarize the house. It can also include putting someone at risk for being bullied or made fun of at school, based on a picture or video.

3. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t post it. In other words, no lying, no secrets, no gossip, no rumors. One of the most insidious things about online posting is that they follow the kid home. Unlike hearing something mean said about him once, reading it online can, and does, happen over and over, worsening the damage.

4. Remember, once something is posted, it cannot be taken back. Like the post box of bygone days, once the letter drops, it’s out of the sender’s control. In the digital age, who knows where it will turn up years from now. We’re back to reputation again.

Teens struggle to see the importance of these considerations. They seem silly and pointless. Sometimes a parent’s best tool is a good question, like

“How would you feel if someone posted something about you which was embarrassing or humiliating? Which made you look foolish or childish?” or

“What is the difference between sending Anna this funny picture of herself versus posting the picture on your account? What is the difference?” (Of course, the answer is that the former allows Anna to be in charge of how she is viewed, to manage her own reputation.)

Back to our mom-chaperone-host and her dilemma. How about approaching the guy doing the filming with something like, “John, those guys are crazy, aren’t they? You could probably get them to do a youtube video. But, you know we have a house rule that you can’t film anyone without asking. Did you already ask them? If not, please delete the video. Or, I’m happy to hold your phone/camera while you go around and make sure it’s okay with everyone. I’m sure you would want the same courtesy. I’ll wait right here. . . ” Remember, from installment #2, keep your correction low on emotion, private, and as brief as possible (my personal challenge is always 3 sentences or less!)

 Sometimes at fun parties, you really HAD to be there to capture the good times. It just doesn’t translate as well on a video.  As caring adults, we have to help kids learn to navigate the shifting currents of our culture, to help them become good digital citizens.

As always, I welcome your comments.