A parent called me yesterday after reading a recent posting on her daughter's facebook page. This was one of those unauthorized," I wonder what kind of stuff my kid is posting these days." Her daughter is 13 and that kind of wondering is a good thing. Here's why. This most recent posting started with a "You'll never guess what my mom said the other day about my brother", and she went on to describe one of those family interactions that we all have in our family, that good natured teasing. The making a little fun of, in a loving way of a characteristic behavior of a family member. For example, I have a really loud voice, and friends and family often make funny little comments like"hey Joani they can't hear you in Paris can you talk a little louder". I cringe a little but mostly smile, because it is something that feels OK to me in the loving arms of my friends and family. What this mom read on her daughter's face book wall was a recitation of a family teasing moment with her 11 year old son as the subject of said teasing, and something that definitely did not belong outside of the family lest it be misinterpreted. It was embarrassing to the boy, and mortifying to the mom. Needless to say, mom was furious." How could she be so stupid? Doesn't she know how it will make her brother feel? Our family is private, how can I ever trust her again?? All reasonable and understandable questions. So here is the disconnect, when your teen is posting on their facebook wall what they are thinking is " How funny can I be? How outrageous can I be?" Your teen is creating a persona, sometimes an alter ego. "I can't be this funny in person, but I can on facebook" This 13 yr old girl was not going any further than "this is funny". She wasn't going through the process of sequential thinking that if she had, she probably wouldn't have posted in the first place. As adults, our thinking would have gone something like this: "If I post this and my friends read it, than they might think its alright to tease my brother like this when they come over my house, and make him feel bad, and this does make my mom look a little insensitive, I know she was only kidding, but other people might not. I think I won't post this on my face book wall. " This would be a beautiful thing if kids went through this kind of thinking before they did something that to adults is so obviously stupid. Teens are spontaneous and impulsive, not thoughtful and careful. So here is a teaching moment rather
than a punishing moment. Using an I Get it moment, mom can say; "I get that its fun to post things on face book that seem a little outrageous. And you should feel free to do that, but it is not alright to post things about our family, especially without our permission. I know you weren't thinking this, but if one of your friends were to say something to your brother after reading this, he would be devastated, and I know how much you love your brother and would not unknowingly do something to hurt him. So new rule, no writing about family without permission, and you and I will check your wall together at the end of every day for a few weeks to make sure there is nothing on there that could potentially be hurtful." This is one of those situations when education rather than punishment bears more fruit. Expecting that these new emerging young people instinctively know how to navigate this Internet world is unrealistic. Helping them to understand consequences of their behavior and giving them options for new ways of behaving is when learning takes place.