Editor's Note: Brian Foreman, a Raleigh dad and social media educator, shares his thoughts on a state investigation looking into nude pictures of high school students from Wake County and across the state on Instagram. Check the More on This section for more information about the case.
A headline about nude photos of Wake County high school students is bound to grab your attention. Despite reading similar stories from other communities, it still gave me pause because the story is right here, in the Triangle.
It would be easy at this point to assign blame to a person, a group or even Instagram, but that type of reaction does not prevent this type of thing from occurring again. The reality is there are teenagers who made bad choices and are suffering horrible consequences, some that are very personal and some that may involve legal repercussions. There are also parents who are trying to figure out how this happened in their homes. Rather than chastise our neighbors, we need to support them, and ask how we limit the possibilities of this happening again.
One thing I say over and over to parents is “talk to your teens about your concerns, fears and interest in social media.” Develop an awareness of what is happening in your teen’s life, and including the digital side. This story demonstrates the importance of why we need to be aware and involved in the digital lives of our children. Consider the before, during and after of this crisis.
Before this social media frenzy started there are numerous conversations that could have happened with those now affected. As parents we should talk about the consequences of sharing, whether original content or forwarding, with one person or many. What we share has the potential to be shared globally in mere moments. Long-term consequences are rarely on the minds of teens making emotionally charged decisions.
Additionally we should be talking about self-respect and respect for others. Would we say or do some of these things if we were in the same room? One thing to recognize here is that many adults are doing a pretty lousy job of modeling this as a whole. I suspect some of the comments on this post will prove my point. Aside from modeling it, we should expect good behavior from our kids and the only way we know is through our conversations with them, including sampling what they post.
During a crisis, teenagers need parents who are aware of what is happening so that they are not facing it alone. A brave 15-year-old girl made a decision to report what was happening, and she faced a severe backlash. Often in difficult situations, teens get caught in the middle and are under-equipped with how to handle the situation.
My friend Hannah supports her teenage son with an agreed upon monitoring service through which his social media and texts are filtered. If flagged words hit the filter, mom gets notified. The two of them then have a face-to-face conversation about it to determine what is acceptable or if he needs her input. When a friend talked about being sexually abused, the son knew his mom would be involved and he did not have to bear the burden alone. That is just one example of how this particular mother is aware of what is happening in the digital part of her son’s life. If we believe kids are being forced to grow up too fast today, then we should also do what we can to help them learn to navigate adult situations.
After events like this one, the question we might be asking is “so what do we do now?” We talk about it. We listen. We discuss how parent and teen can feel good about social media and one another’s presence on it. This is an opportunity for teens to learn valuable insights, that unfortunately, are coming at a high cost to those involved.
Obviously, not every family is going to arrive at the same conclusion of what is right or wrong, or how they will approach social media and digital technology. Hopefully your family is having conversations about it. If not, either due to willfully ignoring it, dismissing it, or because it intimidates you, then you are also ignoring and dismissing a significant part of your teen’s life.
How are you talking about this with your kids? I’d love to hear from you. All comments, threats, ideas and hate mail can be addressed to email@example.com or on Twitter @b4man72.
Brian Foreman, a Raleigh dad of two, is a social media educator. Go to his website for more information about his book "How to be Social Media Parents." Find him here monthly on Go Ask Mom.