Boys my boys,
What do I want you to know about the Internet? I’ve grown to see the Internet as kind of a superpower. When Spiderman first got his powers, his uncle told him that “with great power comes great responsibility”, and I think the Internet gives you great power. It will be up to you to provide the great responsibility.
At the risk of sounding old, I’m going to start a sentence with ‘back in my day’. Back in my day bullying is something that happened at school. And it was undoubtedly torture for those that had to endure it. But they at least had the knowledge that they could leave school, go home, and exist for a period of time in relative safety.
With the invent of social media, the distinction between home and school has evaporated and kids can no longer get a reprieve from their tormentors. For this reason, I urge you to practice an abundance of caution when you choose to post something online. You have yet to fully understand let alone master your emotions and if you allow yourself the instant gratification of posting something online at a moment of emotional instability, you may be doing unknown harm to the recipient or even yourself.
Equally as important to me is the access you choose to give others into your life. The Internet generally and social media specifically will provide you with the tools to give unfettered access to every aspect of your life. Each thought the moment you have it, every experience the second it happens, and each emotion as it comes. Putting this information out there is unwise for a multitude of reasons.
First and foremost the Internet never forgets. Once it is out there, it is always out there. So the intended audience when you are 16 will not be the only ones to see it. Your future employers at 24 will see what you’ve said; your future spouse and children will see what you put out there.
As a teenager it is hard to act with this kind of foresight, so I will remind you of this: less than ten years ago “poop” and “fart” was the funniest things you could think to say. You’d laugh for hours parroting these words back and forth to one another. So just think, ten years from now, the things you think are clever or funny may seem just as silly (and possibly more damaging). If you can imagine a future version of yourself not wanting something attached to you, do not post it on the Internet.
Second, vulnerability is an essential part of any healthy relationship. However, it is something that should be done in person, face-to-face and not shared to 500 of your closest friends. Do not post intimate details of your thoughts and feelings for all to see. (The irony of me writing this on a blog in which I am literally sharing my thoughts and feelings for all to see is not lost on me.)
While for the most part I genuinely believe that people are good by nature, this is certainly not true in the cesspool of insecurity and uncertainty that exists in middle school and high school. Therefore, whatever is shared in confidence (or publically) to your closest friends today could easily be used to embarrass or shame you tomorrow. Do not wall yourself off from others, simply practice caution when you choose to be vulnerable and recognize that vulnerability is a human experience and not a technological one.
Moving beyond social media and relationships, I want you to recognize that the Internet is probably the best tool at your disposal. You’ll have access to a wealth of knowledge and information that can truly enhance your life and push you to better yourself. But for as much as it has the potential for good in your life, it has equal potential for negativity. It provides a forum for poisonous hate and negativity, a platform for sexual exploitation, and the more subtle opportunity to waste your most valuable resource…time.
You will have access to all of it. And you will have the responsibility to determine how you want it to impact your life. My hope for you is that you realize early the healthy from the unhealthy, the edifying from the detrimental.
When you are given access to the Internet, I want you to understand the awesome power that you have. And I want you to wield that power for good in your life and be a responsible online citizen.