This past week, the newly crowned Miss Teen USA found herself in trouble after several tweets from 2013 & 2014 were discovered where she used the “N-word.” In the days where she should be celebrating her victory, she’s instead making the talk show rounds, apologizing for her past tweets. Some are even calling for her crown to be removed.
By not parenting their child in regards to her social media, they set her up to be embarrassed on a national level.
It highlights an extremely important point for 21st century parents:
You must teach your kids how to use social media appropriately!
I obviously don’t know the new Miss Teen USA, but I have worked with teenagers for the last 10 years. I seriously doubt she’s overtly racist with white supremacist tendencies. Instead, she’s probably a foolish teenager who doesn’t understand how offensive that word is, or that what is posted on the internet goes public. The Tweets I’ve read look like like inappropriate private messages posted in a public setting. I have no intention of defending her use of the N-word other than to say, I don’t believe the cause is racism, but a lack of understanding for the offensiveness of the word.
The point is the youthful indiscretions that virtually every one makes in their teenage years are now being recorded on the internet to haunt people years later. Every dumb action saved on the hard drives of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and whatever is next, waiting for future employers to discover.
This is the first generation with a full record of their youthful indiscretions recorded publicly!
Parents, you must raise your children to understand how how social media works!
Three Things You Must Teach Your Children About Social Media
As parents, our role is to teach our children how to succeed in life. Here are five things you must teach your children about social media:
Everything You Post on Social Media, You Have Given to Someone Else
In the current era of cloud storage and syncing accounts, it’s easy to view your many social media pages as extended hard drive space. While they may functionally behave as online storage accounts, in reality, they’re more like storing your files and pictures on a total stranger’s hard drive. When you think about it that way, it drastically changes what you would consider posting on social media.
Your children need to understand they shouldn’t post anything on social media they wouldn’t give to a total stranger.
Everything You Post on Social Media Can Be Seen By More People Than You Realize
If you’ve spent any amount of time on social media, you’ve seen someone over-share on social media.
- A wife trashing their husband on Facebook
- Two friends arguing over Twitter
- A 14 year old girl posting an intentionally sexually provocative picture on Instagram
- Someone trashing their boss with a status update
- Someone complaining about their job while at their job on Facebook
- Someone obviously fishing for a compliment
- Someone blatantly seeking pity
There have been so many times that I’ve been so incredibly uncomfortable reading people’s social media posts.
When we post things, we release it generically to a broad audience; We know people will see it. There may be people in particular that we WANT to see it, and other people we don’t want to see it. When you post, you personally send something to a group. What is important to remember is that, while you send it out to lots of people, it is attributed to you personally when it is read.
When your kids post something, you have to teach them to think about the individuals that will read the post.
Your children need to know they should not post anything on social media they wouldn’t want you, their teachers, their pastor, or a total stranger to see.
Everything You Post on Social Media Sticks Around
I don’t need to expand on this one much. With few exceptions, what you post on social media sticks around a long time. Immature behavior from your teenage years sticks around until you delete it (and even then, sometimes people can find it) or the site goes off-line. If you have a large online presence, it’s very easy to forget all of the places you’ve posted things.
Miss Teen USA would never go on the stage of the show and use the “N-word, but that’s essentially what she did by going on the stage without cleaning up her social media accounts. The reality is that she probably never thought anyone besides her friends would see those posts, and then she forgot all about them before stepping into the national spotlight. But those posts stuck around!
Teach your children not to post anything they don’t want to stick around a long time.
Your children need to understand that what they post on social media stays public.
Three Questions to Ask Before Posting on Social Media
Would I Say This To Their Face?
The impersonal nature of the internet provides some a dose of online courage. Suddenly, things they would never say to someone’s face, they’ll write over the internet. The anonymity, likewise, gives them a disguise to hide behind while posting horrible things. Simply read the comment section on YouTube, and you will find some of the most offensive, immature, sexist, and racist comments imaginable. Typing on a screen is all some people need to bring the worst out of them.
While it’s much easier to write something on a screen than say it to a face, it no less compromises your integrity and hurts others.
You must teach your children to ask if they would be willing to say what they’re about to post to someone’s face.
Would I Be Okay With Everyone at School/Church/Work Seeing This?
This question helps people to pause and consider the individuals who will read/see the social media content. Taking the time to stop to consider the experience of the people who will see what you’re about to post should drastically change how you post.
The user experience of seeing a picture posted on Instagram and seeing a picture someone texts you are very similar. If they wouldn’t be willing to text a picture or status update to everyone they know, they shouldn’t post it on social media.
As a youth pastor, I tried to get students to stop and consider:
- Would you text this status update to me?
- Would you text this picture to me?
If their answer is no, “No” would then be the correct choice to making that status update or post.
Is This An Inside Joke or Private Opinion?
Certain jokes and opinions only make sense within a given context. Your family and close friends know you, and the context under which you’re making a given joke. With people you’re close with, you’ve earned the right to say certain things to them, and they’ve earned the right to get to know you on a deeper level.
This type of intimacy is lost on social media.
When they post something to social media, they need to consider if this a joke for close friends only, a small group of people, or the public. The more controversial the comment/picture, the smaller the number of people it’s appropriate to share the comment/picture with. You should be extremely cautious and sensitive with comments made to a general audience.
I imagine this is what led to Miss Teen USA’s comments. She most likely used to joke like that with her close friends. It wasn’t intended to be racist or to degrade people. In their circle, maybe they found the term funny and therefore they used it (I’m not at all suggesting this is okay). While the language isn’t offending anyone inside their small circle, it’s extremely offensive when seen by others. She likely posted an inside joke in a public setting. Now she’s offended many, embarrassed herself, and marred her reputation.
We must teach our children to consider the audience that will receive a message.
The scariest thing about social media is that it’s constantly changing into something new. As a parent, you must work to keep up with social media so that you can parent your child properly.
Inherently, teenagers don’t naturally think long term about their posting, and they don’t understand how big the internet is. They do not understand that employers will look at their social media accounts. Some of them are young enough they’re not even thinking about the idea of having future employers.
As a parent, you must be the filter for their posts.
- When they’re still learning how social media works, you should be very careful how much freedom you give them.
- When they demonstrate responsible behavior with posting, you give them greater freedom.
By helping parent in this area, you can save them the pain which comes with misuse of social media. Stay engaged!
*** I do not mean to in any way imply that her being embarrassed is worse than what she said. I’m operating from the assumption that she isn’t a racist, but she did make some terrible choices in regard to how she spoke. As much as her parents need to teach her about social media, even more so they should have taught her how offensive the n-word is, and not appropriate for any circumstance. ***