I remember a time when it was common to use siblings as messengers. This was nothing new to me. Some older girls at my school would quietly give me little notes, safely secured with sticky tape, to pass on to my brother. As soon as I hit my teenage years, I did the exact same thing and found someone else’s sibling to act as a messenger. Being in a conservative girls school, we would hide the letters in the sleeves of our cardigans in fear of the nuns finding out that we were sending letters to ‘boys’. It was all part of the excitement.
I also remember sprinting to the phone, before anyone else in the family answered, just in case a ‘boyfriend’ called. Going out at the weekend meant that we didn’t know whether we would meet our crush. It was hard to forget the butterflies and the excitement that we felt if a person we fancied happened to be at the same venue.
Like any teenager, I have no doubt that we acted foolishly and frivolously in the presence of a person that we liked. It was a different time and the passage of time is inevitable.
The difference today is that, unlike my teenage years, most teenagers have an internet-enabled phone in their pocket. Our first flirtations may have ranged from a little note or a secret Valentine card. But without access to smartphones or the web, our romantic gestures, however embarrassing, were rarely seen by anyone else. At most, the notes would be stored in a little shoebox.
Unlike physical cards or photos, the Internet never forgets and, once posted, digital content can last a lifetime. So any fallout will not entirely disappear, and may potentially resurface in years to come.
Take the selfies* trend among teens. Mostly they are spontaneous and immediately shared on Facebook or Instagram or on WhatsApp. They are often taken to mark a silly or special moment in their daily life. When you share a moment with a friend you trust-you never imagine for one minute that footage may at any point be shared with the rest of their friends.
It is important to talk to your child about selfies. Here are a few tips on how you can approach the subject.
- Start with the facts: Explain that if a teen has an indecent image of another minor, they are committing an offence.
- Help them consider the consequences: What parents and children worry about is vastly different. Young people worry more about their friendships today than any future implications such as job opportunities.
- Focus on issues rather than technologies: It’s important to understand the link between off and online vulnerability.
- Make it relevant: Be realistic and avoid shame.
- Think about your ‘worst case scenario plan’: If the worst does happen, it is important to know what to do and who to turn to for support. There are a number of local entities such as http://www.kellimni.com
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*A selfie is a self-portrait taken on a smartphone camera or webcam