Recent headlines about the far-reaching ramifications of social media posts made by teens serve as another reminder that what's posted on the internet casts a long, permanent shadow for all to see. Within the past few weeks, three Lapeer area teens ranging in age from 14-15 face terrorism-related charges for online posts that allegedly indicate a plot to commit mass murder at Zemmer Middle School. A 17-year-old Howell youth also faces similar charges for an alleged online post threatening the same at a high school there.
The use of social media by youths has become ubiquitous. Posting selfies and updates on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and other social media sites are an ordinary part of most teens' everyday lives. Sometimes, even the smartest teens don't always make the wisest choices when it comes to posting. Imlay City parents were reminded of this last week, when Schools Supt. Dr. Stu Cameron sent a letter home explaining a recent incident that raised eyebrows in the district. A high school student posted some 'distasteful and concerning' memes about a month ago. School officials were alerted by other students, who brought the posts to their attention. After a thorough investigation by the district and local and state police, the findings indicated that no direct threats were made toward any student, staff or schools in the district. The student who made the posts and the student's parents are working with school administrators as well. While the student avoided serious legal troubles, the incident highlights the continued need for parents to talk to their youths about appropriate use of the Internet and social media.
Some simple guidelines could include:
•Reminders to be nice. Make it clear that bullying or crude and rude behavior is unacceptable both in real life and in the virtual world. Ask your teen to inform you of any bullying and/or harassing messages they've received or seen.
•A reminder to "think twice" before hitting "enter." Remind your teen that what they post can be used against them, and to consider the fact that what's posted online has the potential to be read by millions of people. Let them know that once it's out there, it cannot be taken back.
•Go through the proper use of privacy settings and highlight their importance. Remind your youth to never 'friend' strangers and that passwords are for their protection and shouldn't be shared with anyone.
•Make it official. Create a 'social media contract' for your teen to read and sign. Set limits on social media use, and be consistent with enforcement of those limits.
As recent headlines indicate, online posts are far-reaching and long-lasting, and have the potential to create serious problems when deemed inappropriate.