Geoff Fouracre Social Media 101


At a meeting of School Principals I was astounded to hear how many schools had problems with social networking sites.  In fact, every principal at the meeting had a horror story to tell.  Local police officers consistently tell us that they spend an enormous amount of time dealing with issues such as cyber-bullying and “sexting” on social media sites such as Facebook and Snap-chat.

At no time in human history have there been so many opportunities for people to stay connected with each other, regardless of physical distance. Facebook, Twitter, mobile phones, SMS and a range of online chat systems and blogs provide endless opportunity for the teens (and wrinklies) to stay “connected” with others.

I used quotation marks in the last sentence as I am convinced there is some doubt about the value of the “connection” that most of these social media sites actually allow. As many teenagers can now attest, it is quite possible to be “connected” with hundreds of “friends” and yet be very isolated. (Does a teenager really need 756 online “friends” on Facebook?!)

Herein lies the first issue for parents to consider…

All teenagers have a deep desire to be in a tribe; to be a part of a herd. Our teens declare loudly that they don’t want to conform and that they want to assert their independence.  However, they immediately choose forms of dress, speech and communication that their selected crowd of other “independent teenagers” favours. And woe betide them if someone does not follow the unwritten rules of that “independent” inner circle!  Many teenagers will attest that it is social disaster; you must go along to get along!

Given all of this, one of the things that parents need to think seriously about is this; “Which group (which herd) do I really want my teenager to roam with?” Or, to put it in the negative, “Which herd or herds do I need to make sure my teenager does not choose to roam with?”

Thoughtful parents will recognise that if you only start to ask this question once a child hits high school, or even worse, Year 9 or 10, it is too late. Once people adopt their tribal patches (who they associate with, clothes, tattoos, language, music genre, hairstyle, and the like) the chance of breaking the belonging is slim indeed. (Imagine asking politely to be allowed to leave the Hell’s Angels and join the Rebels and you will understand what I mean.)

This issue is one that parents from Kindergarten upwards must take seriously if they want their children’s teenage lives to be successful.  So, what has this to do with social networking media? …Everything!

Being on Facebook is something that even oldies do, and what really matters on any social networking medium is whose friend you are, and how you use the site. The communication media are different – but do you notice how not much has changed from when you were at school? What really mattered as you walked out to the tree in the school ground to eat your warm vegemite sandwich was whose friend you were and what your group’s social norms (rules) were.

Nothing is new – except the medium. So parents can take heart. There is no point in preparing Kindergarten children now on how to use Facebook when they finally are allowed to join in Year 8.  If it still exists then, it will be radically different. But, the game itself will be the same.

Here are some or principles on how to be safe and succeed in every game that kids (and adults) have played since time immemorial.  These principles work with electronic media as well and children as young as five can benefit from practising these common sense principles.  At the same time I believe it is important that we, as parents, teach and model them, day in and day out;

  1. In all your relationships, don’t speak or write without thinking first. Think about how the other person will react, whether you could use better words or timing, and always follow the rule that face to face is best if you can.
  2. Don’t use rude or crass words. Even if they don’t offend the other person, you are better off having friends who don’t use that kind that language anyway.
  3. Don’t say anything about anyone else that you wouldn’t like that person to hear face to face. Unfortunately, I consistently hear of situations where teenagers publish their thoughts and opinions on social media sites that they would never dream of saying in person. In fact, remember the old advice, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”.
  4. Remember that hardly anyone shows on the surface (on their home page or posts, if you like) what they are really like as a person. Trust what they do consistently, rather than what they say.
  5. Remember that what goes onto the internet through social media sites is never “secure” and lasts forever. A future career may hang in the balance because of a Facebook post or a photo uploaded years ago.

It is easy to see how Facebook and other social media sites break many of these common rules of human interaction, or at least tempt users to break them.  Mums and Dads – make sure you put in place the boundaries which will support these principles. Make sure you monitor what is happening on Facebook; it is wise to insist that you are your child’s “friend” if a Facebook account is opened.  It is not an invasion of their privacy to do so; it is just good parenting!

As parents, friends and community members, we have a responsibility to imbue our human interactions with dignity and mutual respect.  Think about these 5 rules; put them into practice within your family life by modelling them yourself, and you will have set in place some important principles for succeeding in the online world for years to come.


Geoff Fouracre