I used to serve as a public relations liaison for men 16 to 21, guys born with silver spoons in most of their mouths. I was the broadcaster and media relations guy for the Muskegon Lumberjacks, a longtime minor-pro hockey team that, in the 2010-11 season, endured its first year as a juniors team.
I spent more time than I'd care to recount poring over their Facebook statuses and tweets. This was about the time I fell in ove with coffee, for obvious reasons.
I went a step further, insisting they all put a privacy lock on their Twitter accounts. Within my job description was the charge to make sure these young, freakishly talented kids didn’t jeopardize their futures, as they vied for college scholarships and, ultimately, a chance to play in the pros, even the NHL.
With a few keystrokes, scholastic suicide was possible. Once racial or homophobic slur, one reference to a drinking party or worse, and college coaching staffs’ grunts were likely to flag it, tag it, and send it to the head coach, who in many cases would cross said promising talent off his list.
That was 6 years ago, so all I had to monitor was their Facebook and Twitter accounts – you know, back when youngsters used Facebook.
“Very rarely do our kids use Facebook today,” Sterling Superintendent Tad Everett recently explained to me. “Facebook is really an adult social media venue.”
Today, there’s Instagram, Snapchat, and more, including the veritable Wild West that is Yik Yak, where users can remain anonymous without even the need to create an alias.
So, here’s the $64,000 question (while I’m dating myself): Do you really want your school district monitoring your kids’ accounts? Some use filters to alert them when certain words or phrases are used on district devices but not on the district’s networks, where social media sites are blocked. For the most part, districts react on a report-based basis.
Frankly, districts are as strapped as they need to be, what with a never-ending list of state mandates, and a perpetually uncertain level of funding.
To its credit, the state has said it will fully fund education this year – at least K-12; community colleges (see: Sauk) aren’t so lucky. But districts, especially those with stagnant equalized assessment values – something downright out of their control – are stretching their means as far as possible. In a perfect world, they’d hear our cries and add programs and staff. Instead, they organize a triage of programs they’d least like to cut.
Look, I’m new to this parenting thing. My kids just started preschool. But until someone tells me to sit down, here’s my soapbox position: It’s up to us to monitor our kids’ social media accounts. Don’t you want to know whether they’re being good, awful or something in between to people?
Once they’re 18, it’s on them. Call me a fascist, but until they reach that delineation, I’ll do what I can to not let a status update, a tweet, or a snap go unchecked.
The colleges scouting those Lumberjacks I oversaw were relentless in trying to find any flaw, any chink in the armor. Again: This. Was. Six. Years. Ago. Take a moment and think about how much the world has changed. Our children’s college prospects could very well hinge on how they behave on social media.
More importantly, in my humble opinion, their character is at stake. Social media makes it very easy for kids to develop bad habits and, in turn, bad character.
Let’s not let them be their own worst enemy.