I have been trying a new strategy when I’m taking to students about cyber safety. I’ve been asking, “What’s the upside?” What is the upside to allowing a total stranger into your network? The answer: “None.” Then I follow up with the next obvious question? “What’s the downside?” I get a lot of good answers. Most students know that there are people out there that might want to victimize them, by either cyberbullying or unwanted sexual inquiries.
So, why are we seeing so many children not following through on these insights? In a recent study by Johnson and Wales University, only 30% of middle schoolers and 26% of high schoolers thought that based on the information that they provide on their social media page, an internet predator could contact them. This study, and my personal experience speaking to thousands of students every year, shows that children only have a surface knowledge of the risks that using social media can have. They would agree that there are some dangers associated with having complete strangers “following” them in their social networks, but it won’t happen to them.
The next question I like to ask is: “What’s the upside to have your Mom and Dad follow you on social media?” Aside from the boisterous opinions and laughing, I get good answers here too. Kids realize that their Mom and Dad have the life experience to see potential threats that they may overlook. What’s the downside? They don’t want Mom and Dad commenting on their posts. How humiliating! I had a student tell me an especially mortifying story about her grandmother posting, “How cute!” under her recent selfie.
A teen’s brain’s decision and moral center is not fully developed, and it won’t be until they are in their twenties. They have difficulty making decisions by putting themselves in someone else’s shoes, and weighing the pros and cons of a course of action. Asking them, “what’s the upside” is a tool that you might want to try. It is a tool that helps promote and motivate the kind of open conversation about social media that you MUST have with your child. Ask questions and you’ll (and maybe your child) will be surprised by the answer they provide, the right answer.