My digital life started at age 23, in a world sans Facebook. Needless to say the online landscape has changed a lot the last 10 years. So much have changed in the way we connect, share and communicate. Sometimes it is hard to envision the old world. Most of these changes have been positive, but some of it, we sort of have failed to grasp the full impact at the time and now as time pass we are starting to understand the consequences and we better adapt.
Cyberbullying is a rising problem, and a definite consequence from our new profound digital life. Stories of children committing suicide, or resolving to violence to stop the onslaught have left us horrified. As someone that was teased as a child, I will admit that the idea of it happening continuously is frightening to me. My escape was when the bell sounded for the day and my mom picked me up. We went home, where it was just me and my brother and the safety of our home. There was no ridicule, just peace, no Whatsapp, no Snapchat, no Facebook, no bullies, real or cyber. No day-care where the kids could bully me further. Thankfully, once I hit high school and my academic prowess started to show, I was left alone and found a home with the nerds and outcasts.
This generation of children whose digital life started at age 13 is maturing and we are slowly seeing the impact of their digital life on their real one. They are starting to pay the price of their ill-conceived public broadcasts. They are getting fired or turned down for jobs. Their digital life is having a profound impact on their actual life. Some of it foreseen, some not. So even though they might have survived their teens, they might suffer for it still.
As someone in my thirties and with friends having babies it seems left, right and centre, it got me thinking about this generation whose digital life started at age 0. Lots of my friends share photos of their kids on Facebook, from the first sonar to birth, some cute, some not, some definitely ill advised. As great as it is to see these children grow, it is also a treasure trove of potential cyberbullying material another 12 years from now.
All of us have embarrassing photos of us as a child. I have one where I sit with a cookie jar between my legs and my face covered in chocolate. Thankfully that is in a photo album in my mother’s closet. But can you imagine the field day the bullies that teased me as a child about my weight would have had if they had access to it, and a way to harass me 24/7 and publicly? This is the sort of thing that the teenagers 12 years from now will potentially face.
Some of my friends on Facebook get it. They share very selective photos. Others unfortunately don’t. They have public profiles or friends of friend’s profiles. They also don’t seem to have discretion when it comes to what they share. I fear for those kids. So please, if you are a parent or grandparent, consider what you share, how you share it and the impact on the life of your most precious gift, that of your child.