Ask me no questions tell me no lies

Oscar Wilde once said the worst thing wasn’t people talking about you, but rather people not talking about you. I love Oscar Wilde, but in this I think he’s wrong.

teens_safe_online

Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.

In our post-Internet age where reputations can be irreparably destroyed with a few clicks of the send button, people saying the ‘wrong things’ about you, can be devastating. Especially if you are young and vulnerable apropos a teenager.

My daughter (the one formerly known as Dark Princess but who has demanded a re-brand so will be known from now on as Whovian Traveller), came home recently with a sobering story about the latest social media craze amongst teens – Ask.fm.

A site that has become very popular amongst teenagers, Ask.fm enables logged-in users to ask (and answer) questions. Of course the formula is in itself not too worrying but when those questions are asked anonymously and displayed on the user’s account for all to see things can get very difficult. Problems arise.

Problems like: a young 17 year old being asked if he was gay in a very explicit, direct way. Or a 14 year old being asked why she doesn’t kill herself or an 18 year old why she doesn’t stop being the town ‘bike’.

Ignoring the question doesn’t  help, because an unanswered question can signal to suspicious little minds that it is too close to the truth. And that’s how rumours grow legs and race across the world and cyber bullying flourishes. Answering the question can lead to a flame war that illuminates the problem as effectively as a distress flare highlights the spot where the ship went down.

Whovian Queen isn’t on Ask.fm (wise girl!) but she was horrified to read questions posed to friends of hers who are on the site and a little perplexed about how they can deflect hurtful negative chatter.

What can we do to help our teens maintain their privacy and keep their teenage fumbles and failures offline?

My first suggestion was to look to the website security and safety policies. They clearly state that the site should not be used for bullying and hastens to add that they will report any criminal activity to the appropriate authorities, but with over 40 million users worldwide that’s a policy that cannot be easy to police.

It’s the uncontrolled, un-moderated wild, wild west out there!

Next, don’t ever post anything online whilst under the influence of the three D’s – drugs, drink or deadbeats. However witty, or amusing, alternative, edgy or clever your post may seem to you at the time. It isn’t. It never will be. Ever.

Then interrogate your need for exposure. Why does it matter? Why do you want people to pay you attention? What drives that need and will it be as strong and persuasive a desire in a year’s time? Or ten years?

Third piece of advice is this – the people you want to catch the attention of won’t notice, and the people you hope won’t see, will see.

Your Facebook post may well reach over 74,000 people all over the world, including  your Great Aunt Ethel, how many of those 74,000 will care even if they do see it? Isn’t the actual circle of influence considerably smaller and defined by those who have an interactive connection with you? And Aunt Ethel, of course!

Of course teenagers find this perplexing – why wouldn’t anyone care about their lives, their angst their trials and tribulations?

Whilst for adults looking on is the most perplexing question is:  Why give strangers the opportunity to comment on your life or put you on the spot?

But can we really lecture the Internet generation on what is appropriate online? Our generation who brought to the younger generations instant stardom in the X Factor format (a format that thrives on mocking those poor deluded souls who think they can sing), YouTube fandom and Facebook followers.

We set up this generation of teenagers. We created an online world where teenage mistakes can be paraded in front of a unseen judge and jury of online onlookers. After all, Facebook was designed as a means of grading college girls’ attractiveness.

I think we need to get involved in our teen’s lives online just as we do offline and ensure that they understand the game and the perils of playing. There’s a price to pay for for popularity and fame, and it’s a price you don’t want to be paying years after you’ve finally reached adulthood.

So what should teens do about Ask.fm or Facebook or Chat rooms, for that matter?

I believe teens need to learn how to capitalise the advantages of the new forms of social media whilst simultaneously learning how to keep themselves safe and their privacy intact online. Just as adults like us, need to. As parents we can help them achieve this by keeping an open comms channel with our teens, and that includes understanding where they frequent online and what they’re up to.

Do you know where your kids hang out online?

 

 

 


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'Ask me no questions tell me no lies' has 15 comments

  1. June 11, 2013 @ 2:09 am Catherine

    GREAT article!

    Reply

  2. June 11, 2013 @ 7:18 am MidlifeSinglemum

    I had a friend who came from a family where no information was ever given out ever – if you asked where they bought their socks because you liked them, she would evade the question. Obviously a balance is needed between that and telling everyone everything about your private life. I don’t think the internet sites are totally responsible for this. In these days of diminishing privacy and celebrity culture, we need to teach our children about it, about the benefits and wisdom of not baring all, discuss the down sides of pseudo-celebrity life. Do you know the song – I want to be a mysterious woman? Something to aspire to and harder and harder to achieve.

    Reply

    • June 11, 2013 @ 8:14 am vegemitevix

      Absolutely agree that this is something that has broader reach than our kids and teens. What about us as blogging parents? What guidelines do we follow to ensure we maintain the balance between privacy and sharing?

      Reply

      • June 11, 2013 @ 1:45 pm MidlifeSinglemum

        Good point. I always have one eye on the future – for me and DD – vis a vis what might come back to haunt or embarrass us. I think I’m quite selective about what to publish.

        Reply

        • June 11, 2013 @ 9:01 pm MidlifeSinglemum

          I can’t stop thinking about this question. Even though I an discerning, how do I teach/preach about privacy when I blog?

          Reply

          • June 11, 2013 @ 10:41 pm vegemitevix

            I know. It really is an interesting issue. I think the emphasis should be squarely on not seeking fame as if fame was all that mattered. As a writer I know how much sharing my story as authentically as I can really touches other people, and in that it is a way for me to ‘pay it forward’ if you know what I mean.

  3. June 11, 2013 @ 7:29 am Caroline

    I’ve been thinking lots about this subject recently after googling my 18 yo niece and finding out more than I’d thought I would. Not bad stuff but things I think she’d be surprised everyone can see. I need to have a chat, this article helps. Thanks x

    Reply

    • June 11, 2013 @ 8:13 am vegemitevix

      And I often see young friends on Facebook posting pics of themselves in the sexually loaded ‘trout pout’. Their Mums don’t seem to know that this is a common signal among teens that the girl is ‘up for it’. Sigh. I’m not saying girls should be kept indoors working on their dowry but I do remember the advice we were given when I first started working professionally in the male-oriented corporate world and that was that you could easily climb the ladder one male partner at a time, but your reputation would never ever recover from that behaviour – or even the suggestion that you behaved that way!

      Reply

  4. June 11, 2013 @ 7:42 am donnasimone

    Great post Vix! I will tuck your thoughts away for a few years time when my kids cross the threshold into teen-land. It has to help that we are a bit social-media savvy ourselves, won;t it?
    x

    Reply

    • June 11, 2013 @ 8:09 am vegemitevix

      You would think it should help wouldn’t you! But then over the weekend I watched as a mate in England made a pillock of themselves by obviously drinking and posting on Facebook. So yes we should know, but do we model the right behaviour for our kids?

      Reply

  5. June 11, 2013 @ 4:42 pm Bright Side of Life

    It’s a tough one. I am extremely thankful that my teen can’t be bothered with facebook, although I don’t know what he is actually up to. 17 year old boys aren’t very good at sharing!! My gut instinct is that he is doing okay and being *sensible*… fingers crossed! As for my 14 year old niece in NZ, well.. she really concerns me. 🙁

    Reply

    • June 11, 2013 @ 10:50 pm vegemitevix

      It’s interesting isn’t it. Two of the three teens are not at all interested in Facebook, whilst one is on ALL the time. But the other two are gamers and spend considerable time in chat rooms, so I can only hope they preserve their privacy as I don’t go there!

      Reply

  6. June 11, 2013 @ 6:28 pm Potty Mummy

    Great post – and I will definitely be keeping a weather eye out for Ask.fm from now on (as in, alerting people to the dangers of a seemingly harmless site). What I thought was interesting though is that the pieces of advice you give about the reasons for seeking exposure etc could just as easily apply to us – adults – as to kids. We’re not so different from our kids, after all… 😉

    Reply

    • June 11, 2013 @ 10:48 pm vegemitevix

      I think that’s the only advice that I can give about ASK.fm and that is stay well clear. I agree the advice I give to my own young adults is the advice I give to myself. Especially the ‘stay away from the keyboard and phone when you’ve been drinking’ piece of advice. We think our Facebook page is private but actually with PRISM and other stuff happening out there the only way to keep anything private is to not put it online.

      Reply


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