Article I wrote for RadicalParents.com (link) and Good Men Project (link)
In a world where the majority of people carry a computer in their pocket, we have access to more information than in any other time in human history. It has been said that today’s modern smart phones have more computing power and memory than the entire Apollo 11 space ship.
Because of the information that we have literally at our fingertips different ways of connecting people have popped up over the years. First it was the ever popular chat room then it merged to Instant Message and then came Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Foursquare just to name a few.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg once said, “Our mission is to make the world more open and connected. We do this by giving people the power to share whatever they want and be connected to whoever they want, no matter where they are.” This liberty of sharing information can be a beautiful thing. Social media in its many forms allows people from all over the world to connect around a particular topic or event. Facebook and Twitter keeps people connected and interested in other’s life even if they are separated by thousands of miles,different language, culture and religion.
American society has integrated this notion of social media into its lexicon. Some people claim that engagements and pregnancy announcements or other major life events are not official until they are “Facebook official.” A tweet is not just something a bird does anymore.
For me I personally love social media; I am able to see pictures of my friends’ children growing up, I am able to ‘follow’ a family member as she travels throughout Europe, I am able to reconnect with people that I had lost touch with over the years. Social media is so popular because of the instant and ever changing nature of it. When my niece was born, I saw a picture of her on Facebook before I saw her in person; the crazy thing about that was I was at the hospital waiting for her arrival.
While are there are so many great attributes to social media, there are however some downfalls. For our children, these may not be evident or even that important. It took being bit by the overshare bug to make me realize how important internet privacy and sharing truly is.
The overshare bug is something that flies around and strike at anytime. It’s a pesky mosquito; its always there and you have to ignore it or at least live with it as best as you can. Getting bit can happen to anyone—even I was bit once; I was posting my lunch stops on Facebook, posting my Foursquare check ins on Twitter and posting pictures to Instagram of the most random things in my life; I even used Miso to post what TV shows I was watching. I truly believed that people would like to hear about my life in a more intimate way. It wasn’t until a friend pointed out the fact that I was sharing every place I was on social media via Foursquare that I had a wake up call. What I saw as harmless postings trying to garner more followers or interest in my life, my friend saw as potentially unsafe. I came to the realization that I cared more about putting stuff on social media instead of what was happening in front of my face. I was living in a virtual world instead of the real world.
So what exactly is the overshare bug? It’s a mind set or frame of reference in which you believe that nearly every aspect of one’s life has to be broadcasted on the internet– everything from what you are having for lunch, where you are and even what TV show you are watching. Our smart phones and tablets makes this so simple. Apple, Inc. has even incorporated Twitter and Facebook into their mobile operating system, iOS. Now, with just a swipe of the your finger you can share with the world what you are doing.
Facebook recently updated their web interface to include additional details for a status update– everything from what you are drinking and reading to feelings and what music you are listening to. From Facebook’s perspective it is just another tool to share one’s life with the masses, but from a parent’s perspective it can seem a bit much. Do my friends really need to know if I am reading “The Divine Comedy” and eating a Kit Kat? In my opinion– no.
This problem is that this is new for most parents. The Internet (especially social media) is a relatively new invention and thus uncharted territory. Technology is changing at a quick clip and for most parents they are just trying to keep their head above water. The tricky situation for parents (especially parents of Tweens and Teens) is how to convey that the over share bug is something to watch out for. Conflict arises when there is a disconnect between what the child sees as just playful information and a parent sees as over share.
To broach this conversation I would employ a couple of tips.
First, if you child/children are on Facebook or Twitter, be sure you are their friend or following them as well– not to stalk them or post embarrassing things but to know what type of information is being posted online. Both Facebook and Twitter have privacy options that allow the user to control what information is able to be seen. By parents bowing these options you will be able to walk through these options with your children. Encourage your child to learn them with you and discuss how these settings are important.
Second, remember the rule “if you want to share, less is more.” I understand the notion that children and even adults want to share with their friends what they are up to. This is fun to do but the less people know the better. For example, posting “I can’t wait to go see ‘The Croods’ tonight!” is perfectly fine; however, posting “I can’t wait to go see ‘The Croods’ with Sam, Pete, Ashley and Sarah at Winter Park Movie Theater on Highway 18 at 7:30pm!” is an overshare. Reminder your child/children that the latter of posts lets the masses know exactly where you will be at a particular time.
This rule is also important to use when using geosocial media like Foursquare or Facebook Places. These apps allow the users to “check in” and post this information to Facebook and Twitter; these apps pinpoint your location and even place a link with a map online.
As technology changes so will how we interact with it. Knowing how to effectively use technology will help to ensure our children’s safety when it comes to sharing information online.
Watch out for that over share bug.