Growing up, I took a few Karate classes.
Literally. I took three of them.
I went for a class where they talked about how important it was to “harness my energy.” Then I went back where they showed me how to stand so that I could use my new (not-yet-learned) resources most successfully. I don’t really remember what I was taught during my third Karate class, but it must not’ve been the roundhouse kick I was hoping to learn because I quit immediately after.
Some twenty years later, in the middle of this social media revolution, I’ve begun to understand and appreciate where sensei was coming from.
For this newest generation, learning to use Facebook is as easy as learning to speak and as awkward as figuring out how to uniquely blend in to the crowd like an individual – just like the rite of passage we all went through as adolescents and teens.
However, for the newest generation of parents (and their parents), it took a while to grow comfortable with Facebook in particular. However, it seems that Facebook has proven itself as a useful (if not increasingly necessary) tool for networking, reminiscing and yes, even parenting.
While most Facebook users feel they understand what they need to understand in order to use it for their own intents and purposes, few parents seem to realize that there is a certain craft, a certain martial-arts-like restraint necessary while being a parental Facebook user.
But, first, the argument.
Making the Case
Make no mistake about it, parents, your student is aware of your Facebook activity. Even if you just use it for “personal connections”, your student is as embarrassed by what you do on Facebook as easily as they’re embarrassed every time they see you smiling, singing, or having fun while you’re on the parental clock.
Your teenager will always see Facebook as THEIR medium just as they see their room as THEIR room or their friends as THEIR friends. The more fun they think you’re having on THEIR medium the more agitated they’re going to get. I’m not trying to discourage your use (see below), I just want you to understand what you’re up against. See: myparentsjoinedfacebook.com. I rest my case.
Facebook is such a tremendous tool that we as educators, ministers, and parents have to stay engaged with our students and their environments. We can be more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and activities all while being less invasive than the generation before us had to be while getting to know us!
It’s like karate (so I’ve heard). It is a tremendously powerful resource that if used correctly can help keep our teenagers, and our relationships with them, safe and healthy.
Yes, I’m Talking to You
Allow me to be more specific.
If you ever worry about becoming
- a parent who has been “un-friended”, or by your student
- a parent who is “friends” with your student who has not yet realized that you are being “blocked” on some (or the majority of) the pictures, comments, and statuses that your student posts, or
- a parent who has argued with your student about whether or not a post, comment, or picture they posted was appropriate,
I’m talking to you. I’m not judging, I’ve just spent the last two weeks talking with parents and teenagers, and feel like I might be in a position to help, ya know, as the middle man.
In those conversations, there were three clear themes that surfaced in almost every conversation. Again, these rules will be as unique to you as your relationship with your teenager. Please consider said relationship in your interpretation of the rules. Bear in mind, I don’t know you, your teen, or your relationship with your teenager.
In other words, don’t get mad, ijs (shorthand: I”m just sayin’).
A Few Ground Rules
RULE #1: DO NOT POST PICTURES, COMMENTS, OR STATUSES ABOUT YOUR TEENAGERS WITHOUT THEIR PERMISSION.
I can understand where this is a toughy. The obvious response is “It’s my status, and I can post whatever I want about my day and my family!”
And you’re right. You have every right to post want you want. The same as you have every right to walk into their classroom and announce their next doctor’s appointment. Point is, to them it’s the same thing.
Facebook is an extension of school at it’s worst and an extension of their social identity at its best (in their opinion) as many students are prone to keeping their family life separate from either of those two realms, the same is true on Facebook. As irrational as that may seem to you, the gesture to acknowledge it would be much appreciated.
Remember: odds are good that their next romantic relationship will begin (and most likely end) on Facebook. Your student might not want to date in the presence of their family photo album.
RULE #2: DON’T COMMENT ON YOUR STUDENT’S WALL, POSTS, OR PICTURES.
Ya know that “eye-roll-of-death” you get from your teen when you walk up to join in on a conversation with him/her and their friends. I’m not sure there’s a way to comment or post on your student’s thread without seeming invasive.
I’m not saying it’s a rational emotion. Neither was it rationale when he chastised our parents for “trying to be cool” either.
And most importantly.
RULE #3: CHOOSE YOUR BATTLE
That is not a typo, folks, choose your battle.
With greater accessibility to your teenager’s life, you are inevitable going to see things that make you uncomfortable. You might even see stuff that you think is wrong. I can’t help you determine the difference between the two. All I can say is this: choose your battle, because you will only get one.
I believe that as soon as you directly confront a post or picture on your student’s (or student’s friends) profile they become drastically more aware that you are watching – and they become uncomfortable. That used to be the same sense of discomfort that our parents used to motivate us away from doing “wrong.” However, this generation is given a technological “out”. You will be blocked, and they will continue as usual.
To today’s teenager, their Facebook page feels like some combination of their property and their diary. Treat the information that you gleam from there accordingly.
HINT: I am not at all suggesting that you NOT use the information. Nor am I suggesting that you not hold your student to the expectations you have decided are appropriate. Just make sure you ask enough questions, gather enough sources, so that it doesn’t look like you’ve been reading their diary; especially since they would just assume find a new hiding spot for their diary.
You would be amazed how many times I’ve seen a picture or post on Facebook that has led me to ask a student how they’re doing. “How’d you know?” they often respond.
Stay calm, don’t rush to confrontation, and you may just appear to be an intuitive genius. A true magician never reveals his/her secrets/sources.
I would think that every generation of parents has had to dance the awkward shuffle of being an involved parent without being the helicopter-parent who hovers, worries, and suffocates.
These new guidelines are just a dance-step towards better understanding how to understand the power of technology, the power of a teenager’s trust, and the power of parental presence.
Now, if I could only master the power of a roundhouse kick!