Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Living Our Lives Online

I’ve been thinking about how we treat each other a lot lately for several reasons. On Facebook, I read posts about some bullying happening on Instagram with a few kids. Talking to friends, I remembered the need to reflect on my own discussions in front of my children, what did they hear me saying? In reading, I encountered a boy named Albie, who had to deal with his own group of mean kids.


It seems to be everywhere. It is enough to make me want to lock up my children in our house, remove them from the online world, limit their exposure to what I can control. Yet, I know that is not feasible. I cannot control much, in truth. So what to do?

I think I am a fairly responsible parent and teacher. In regard to our home, Luke does have a phone now, Liam doesn’t yet. We, of course, have rules about phone use. I monitor it. We’ve talked about what is ok to post, what isn’t ok. We’ve talked about what to do when you see something you aren’t comfortable with. We’ve talked about using me – a mean mom who checks in – as an excuse if you are in a bind.

In regards to my students, we spent two weeks this year discussing digital citizenship. We’ve talked about living our lives online. What is acceptable to post, what crosses the line. We’ve discussed how what we put out there lives “somewhere” forever, even in Snapchat. We’ve talked about it all, but it isn’t enough.

I’m fairly certain that no matter what I do, or what I say, that my students and/or my own sons will screw up online. I pray they won’t, but I know that they are kids, and they are impulsive, and sometimes it will get ugly. I hope if they do mess up, someone calls them on it. I hope that they will take mistakes and learn from them, because that is what life is for. I hope they don’t hurt others. I hope they choose to be kind.

So as adults, what can we do? I have honestly thought a lot about this. I’ve done what I mentioned above, but that didn’t seem like enough, so I had a plan.

Some friends have asked me why I am always optimistic. Why I’m never upset online. That they are glad that life is going so well. It is true, I am blessed. I have an awesome family, an amazing job, and fabulous friends. But not all days are like that. There are days that are hard. Where the adults – and kids – in my life make me crazy. Those days it would be easy to go on any social networking sites and post a comment calling people out, or saying that “X” was making me mad. I choose not to. It isn’t that I don’t feel those things, but I know that whether I like it or not, I’m a role model.

I’ve chosen to be a parent, so I’m a role model by default there. My kids will hear my words – be kind, be forgiving, be generous – but my actions speak way louder. If I’m complaining about the people I interact with daily, they hear that. If I’m typing comments negatively online, they can see that. I can’t tell them to behave in a way that I don’t, so I try really hard to be the person I want them to be.

I’ve opened myself up to being an online role model too. Teachers are stuck in a weird world – we’re learning about social media right along with our students. I have gone back and forth on allowing my students to be my online “friends.” For a long time it was easy, I said no. When you graduate, maybe. Then I thought why not? Then I decided no again. It’s a bit strange to be “friends” with your students, right? Enter Instagram.

Evil or awesome, depending on who you talk to, a lot of my students are on Instagram. Like Twitter, I left my Instagram account open – people could friend me at will. One day I realized that I had several current students following me. I debated making my account private and asking them not to, when I reconsidered. I try to be a role model for my sons, for my students at school, why not try to be a role model online for them? Maybe they needed to follow one person who just posted positive photos. Who enjoyed sunsets, books, food, and nature? So I let them.

I’ve lost count of the number of kids who now follow me online. I don’t follow them back, because I don’t think that is needed. I hope that by seeing my posts in their feed, they maybe have a second to think of how they are living their lives online. I hope it is a quick reminded of a teacher who loves them and believes they can do their best. I think that’s all I can do.

As adults, we have so much hope for our kids. We want them to be kind, caring, and accepting of others. I think that is exactly the right goal. We also need to strive for the same in ourselves. We need to remember these kids around us are watching us at every turn. We need to strive to behave as we would like them to. I know I will fall short, but I try a bit harder each day. I love them all too much not to.