August 17, 2012

A Letter to Me In 2018: Young Minds in the Age of Social Media

Hello there! Whew, life sure has been busy these past few weeks. There is so much that I would have enjoyed writing about, if only there were a few more hours in the day. I'm looking forward to getting back into a routine shortly and settling down just a bit. For now though, I have had some thoughts that have been heavy on my mind, and I want to put them into words. So, I'm making myself slow down for a few minutes to do it. There have been many, many times lately when I've been scrolling through the news feed on Facebook, and I find myself feeling SO incredibly grateful that social media didn't exist when I was a melodramatic 13-year old girl. Furthermore, I'm especially grateful that there was no outlet available by which I was able to share hundreds of photos of myself in a variety of awkward poses and positions for all to see. Let me be clear, I'm not claiming that hundreds of awkward photos of myself don't exist, they are just tucked safely away in a box beneath my bed. I like to tell myself that had Facebook existed when I was a 13-year old girl, my better judgment would have prevented me from posting about every small bit of drama that I faced. I mean, I would have had the established reasoning skills to recognize that posting about drama, begets drama... right? Or I think that if at any point I felt compelled to post 40 self-portraits in less than an hour with my tounge hanging out or sporting fish lips and a peace sign, well surely my better judgment would have prevailed and at the very least determined that... nah, two is enough. But alas, goodness knows that there were plenty of times where my better judgment failed me, so who is to say how 13-year old me would have maneuvered through the wide abyss known as Facebook. Seriously though, I'm concerned. Sincerely concerned. Facebook may not have existed when I was an adolescent, but it does exist today. It's a part of the world that my children, my nephews,  my friends' children, and my children's friends will grow up in. Some of what I'm seeing these days, scares me. I wish there was a way to issue a heartfelt, sincere warning to these young girls and boys. One that they would actually consider. I've seen a few instances where well-meaning individuals have tried to encourage a young mind to be more thoughtful in what they are sharing, and have been met with an, "I don't care, I'll say whatever I want and you can't stop me", attitude. Well, that's true. Unless a parent, or responsible caregiver is willing to step up and intervene, no observant bystander can stop them from posting whatever they want to post. Here is what I wish I could get through to these young minds. They should be the ones to desire and to determine to use more careful discretion in what they are posting. For themselves. Not because Grandma Polly or Uncle Joe is telling them to, but because they alone are establishing a reputation through their words and actions on Facebook, and unfortunately a bad reputation is not always easy to shake. A day may come when they will wise up and start using better judgment, unfortunately when an opinion has been formed in the minds of others, it's sometimes hard to go back and undo it. There are times that it's hard for me to grasp just how far reaching what we put on the internet can be, I know that some of these kids don't get it. It's easy for them to throw words out like daggers, when they are sitting behind the shield of a computer screen or a cell phone. It's easy for them to post about inappropriate behaviors when they only consider the small circle of their friends that may be reading it. I think back to things that I said or did when I was younger, I'm not suggesting that I was a thoughtless heathen, but I know I had my share of moments that weren't covered in glitter. I think about certain situations where an inconsiderate action or careless word or thought may have affected the way I was perceived by those involved. Then I imagine having those moments magnified and encased in a time capsule or as some may call it a "TIMELINE", to be read and reread by everyone that I know. It really is painful to witness and I am genuinely concerned for today's youth. I'm afraid that what they can't see now will one day slap them in the face like a bag of bricks and they will be ashamed and overwhelmed with regret. Unfortunately, I don't have a solution for the concerns I have expressed. I guess my hope is that maybe, just maybe... one or two young people will read this and will make the decision to be more cautious. Sure, your family may be embarrassed by what you are posting, but you are the one who you are hurting the most. Or maybe my hope is this... a parent of a 12 or 13 year old with a cell phone and two happy thumbs will read this and feel encouraged to protect their child by taking action. Yes, maybe it will cause a battle today, maybe they will "hate" you for a time. They don't have the comprehension to understand the consequences of their actions. SAVE them from themselves!! I want to write a letter to myself to help me to be encouraged. Not to the 2012 me but the 2018 me that will be the mother of a 13 year old girl. This is what I want ME to remember.

Dear Me in Two Zero Eighteen,

You are most likely struggling with the desire to give your daughter everything she wants, we both know that is something that has been an inward battle since the day that she was born. She, no doubt, is requesting a cell phone, an IPOD, an IPAD, a laptop, and whatever new technological advances that the past six years have provided. Be strong and fight against it. It is okay to give her some of these things, but she doesn't have to have it all. Set limits AND enforce boundaries. You will be more her friend by doing these things, than you will be by giving in to every one of what she thinks are her hearts' desires. She doesn't know what is best for her right now. The perspective of a teenage girl is cloudy and misleading. You know this, after all... you were one some time ago. She may not realize it now... but she is depending on you to help her through these turbulent years! She doesn't need passwords and privacy. Not where the internet and her well being are concerned. She may not understand it now, but if you stick to your guns, a day will come when it will all make sense to her. She will make foolish mistakes and poor decisions... just as you did, but she will appreciate that you didn't allow her to let those moments define her character in the eyes of all who know her, by allowing her to share them for all to see. Love her, hug her, kiss her, encourage her... just as you always have done. Praise her when she does well, but correct her when she is in need of correction. Most importantly pray for her, ask God to give you direction as you mold and shape the heart of your beautiful teenage girl. I've been praying for you for years as I've known your road would be difficult at times. I've striven earnestly to teach her and mold her throughout the early years, so that she will honor you and respect you during these more difficult years. Yes, I know that there will be trials to overcome, but don't give up and undo all that you and her daddy have worked together to teach her this far. Now is the time to be more diligent then ever. Talk with her, listen to her... hear her. It may be hard to imagine it now, but one day she can be your best friend because first you were her parent.


You in Two Zero One Two

I know that there are many vigilant parents out there, and I am so grateful for the example that they lead by. There are also many wonderful young minds that I see on Facebook, and I love reading their posts and admire the example that they set as well. I only hope that I can help my girls get through those rough years and pray that they will be better people when they step out as young adults. I'm not interested in writing an "advice column", but these are some thoughts I've had bouncing around in my mind. If this helps no one else, maybe I can be encouraged by it in 6 years when I'm in a battle of wills with a sassy teenage girl. Now, I have two little girls who know nothing of status updates and think a friend request is when you ask someone to play tag at the park. They are waiting on me for some cuddles and a movie, duty calls.

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***I'm adding this because a few people have asked my permission to share it. If you think this could be useful to someone you know. By all means, please pass it on!