She also told me that when she bought her son his cell phone, she tried to explain just how much power he held in his hands, that the scope of who could reach him was colossal, but that he didn’t really get what she was talking about. (We know that sometimes when we talk, all our kids hear is that muffled sound that all adults make in Peanuts cartoons.)
Our kids aren’t the only social media newbies: President Barack Obama joined Twitter for the first time last week, and it provides us, I think, with a perfect way to teach some lessons to our tweens, to help them understand just what they’re stepping into.
Hello, Twitter! It's Barack. Really! Six years in, they're finally giving me my own account.
— President Obama (@POTUS) May 18, 2015
What better person to illustrate important lessons than the President? Here are five things your tween needs to know about social media.
1. The Sheer Number of People You Can Reach Is Massive
Obama’s Twitter account broke a world record, being the fastest ever to amass 1 million followers. He did it in less than five hours. The previous record holder: Robert Downey, Jr., who took almost 24 hours to get to the same number. With only four Tweets so far (as of this writing), Obama already has more than 2 million followers.
So it’s not just about talking to your friends; there are millions of people out there, and when you open a social media account, you’re potentially opening up the door to just about anybody.
Of course, Facebook, Instagram and others have settings that allow you to keep your account private, but the minute you choose to comment on something you read using your account, you’ve made your presence known.
2. Some of the People Out There Are Pretty Scary
Within minutes of the launch of his Twitter account, Obama (the President of the United States of America, may we remind you) was subjected to dozens of racist, hateful comments, ranging from criticism to calls for his suicide or his lynching. Everyone on social media needs to be aware that within those massive numbers are a lot of awful people just waiting for the next opportunity to spit out their bile on somebody new.
3. The Internet Is Forever
In the case of the President, it’s the Secret Service who are monitoring everything. (Take that, racist jerks!) But don’t think you’re safe from scrutiny just because you’re a regular, not-famous tween and not the President. Once you put something out there on the Web, it’s there forever and can be seen by future employers, future boyfriends or girlfriends, law enforcement officials, journalists and anyone who digs a little. Be smart about what you say.
Also, once your comments are out there, any yokel like me can embed them right into an article, so watch out for your photos, too.
But it’s not all bad news.
4. There’s Still a Lot of Fun to Be Had
Let’s not pretend social media isn’t fun. Sometimes you get to show off a little.
— President Obama (@POTUS) May 18, 2015
You don’t have to be a President (or a former one), either. Just having one of my favorite Food Network chefs tag me on Instagram and respond to a comment made my day. I’ve met people through LinkedIn and through a mom-oriented discussion board who became my friends, and I have online friends I’ve never met and never will, but talk to regularly.
5. Social Media Can Help You Keep an Eye on Things
Obama’s following 65 Twitter accounts right now, ranging from colleges and sports teams to members of his staff and departments under his jurisdiction. As a non-President, you can keep an eye on your favorite shows, musicians and writers, and even your school. When you get older, you can keep an eye on companies you want to work for and wise people who can inspire you. It’s not all loonies out there, you know.
Do kids need guidance navigating the social media waters? Absolutely. Are they going to let you give it to them? Probably not. Do your best, and I do suggest when they first start out that you let them know you’re keeping an eye on their activity, not because you don’t trust them, but because you don’t trust the rest of the world. Once they see those Obama numbers, they’ll know what you mean.