I know someone who lives in fear. Professional fear. Fear that one day, when it really counts, something they did/said/liked, Snapchatted, Facebooked is going to cripple them professionally.

Living in fear?

Now, if you are living in Syria, Yemen or a drought-stricken African region you would see this as a really good example of a “first world problem”.

First World Problems, are frustrations and complaints that are only experienced by privileged individuals in wealthy countries. It is typically used as a tongue-in-cheek comedic device to make light of trivial inconveniences.

But to this qualified, successful young professional this fear is very real. They have qualifications in communication and know that some of the posts and photos put on the ‘net by their adolescent/young adult self are still out there, like some professional landmine, just waiting to blow up.

“That Facebook photo of you draped across a bar late at night, showing how much of a good time you were having, could be why that latest job application got no further than the bin. Applicants are being warned it is now standard practice for their social media profile to be checked when it comes to assessing their suitability for jobs. Both recruitment companies and employers will be looking at your online presence.” Job applicants’ social media profiles now checked by companies as ‘common practice’, Linda Skates, ABC News, 2014.

I know this person is now a different person to the less thoughtful, ”bullet-proof”, “look at me” individual who posted these things but the fact is they have a right to be fearful.

The fact is that our online selves will often be used to judge our real life selves with sometimes catastrophic personal and professional consequences.

“For every parent who ever wondered what the heck their teens were thinking when they posted risky information or pictures on social media, a team of Penn State researchers suggests that they were not really thinking at all, or at least were not thinking like most adults do.”  http://news.psu.edu/story/348600/2015/03/17/research/teens-approach-social-media-risk-different-adults

Teenage boy in room using laptopIn today’s and tomorrow’s world revealing selfies can spread like digital wildfire and even end up in prosecutions for spreading pornographic images. Some young people have even ended up on sex offender registries, particularly if the subject of the selfie they shared is under 18.

“If Romeo and Juliet had lived in modern Sydney, Romeo would be a registered sex offender. He would be condemned to years of reporting to police the minutiae of his life; his address, his Instagram handle, his brother’s birthday, his school trip to Canberra. Long after serving his sentence, he could be refused a job requiring a working with children check, from teacher to plumber laying pipes at a high school.” Tim Dick, SMH, 2016.

The digital social network sites are like megaphones where our utterances, acts and “likes” can echo for all time, across regional and national boundaries, across platforms, across cultures. Nothing is ever truly deleted, forgotten or left behind. It sits and waits.

Here are some of the most popular social networking and messenger apps that kids are flocking to by the thousands each and every month.

  • WhatsApp
  • Snapchat
  • Instagram
  • Vine
  • Tumblr
  • Pheed
  • Kik
  • Ask.fm.

An ex student of mine owns a very successful digital media company. He has told me of his personal experience in almost hiring an exceptionally talented and qualified job applicant until he did a search of the person’s public digital history and decided that, for all this person’s talent, her digital history and profile posed a risk to his company’s reputation and the ethos he promoted. The contract was not offered.

We try to educate, warn and inform our students of the real dangers (social, psychological, health etc.) that social media can bring to the innocent, unwary or “bullet-proof”.

We see that damage the unthinking or uncaring comment online can make to young lives. We see our students hit the “like” button without thinking about what they are liking and considering the consequences for being part of a stream of comment that may have damaging consequences for themselves and others.

Then we sometimes wonder as the stream of issues and consequences continues to follow our students to school, whether we are getting any traction. We will continue to teach responsible digital citizenship to our students. We will teach them strategies to deal with things like cyberbullying. We will teach them how important “real” relationships are, how important sleep and exercise is to the their physical and emotional life and development.

Here are some of the physical and mental health risks associated with sleep loss during the adolescent years that both parents and teens should be aware of:

  1. Mental health issues: A study of nearly 28,000 suburban high school students, found that each hour of lost sleep is associated with a 38 percent increased risk of feeling sad or hopeless.
  2. Issues with learning and behaviour: Teens who go to bed after 11:30 p.m. on weeknights, tend to perform worse at school and experience greater emotional distress. Younger teens who don’t get enough sleep are also more likely to be inattentive, impulsive, hyperactive and oppositional.  
  3. Substance use and abuse: Sleep deprivation increases the risk of drug use and dependence, and drug use in turn fuelling sleep troubles.

The internet and its social media harpies can easily lead young voyagers onto the rocks, mesmerised by the “friends” and digital mores they begin to believe are important in their lives.

“Swimming lessons may be the best model for parents who want to encourage their teens to use the Internet and social media safely. You make sure they enter the water slowly and make sure they know how to swim before you let them swim on their own and in the deeper parts. Teens’ approach to social media risk is different from adults, 2015

Our contract with our parents is that we will teach them how to swim in these deep and sometimes dark oceans in the hope that they will be able to avoid the shoals and rips that are so obvious to the adult mind.