Wednesday, June 6, 2012

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What Parents Need to Know: Teens Are Flocking to Twitter

I love Twitter.  I love the articles and the clutter-free usability the app provides.  I love that I can follow people who share similar interests to me, and I can learn something useful.  Scanning tweets takes a fraction of the time it takes to peruse Facebook. Still, some people will abuse it for purposes which are less than commendable.

I remembered seeing a tweet last week from an author who posted an article. I should have saved the link when I saw it.  Twitter has an amazing system for apps like Pocket (formerly Read It Later), Instapaper, and the like.  For whatever reason, I didn't save the link, so I tried a search using keywords from what I remembered about the article.

Then the artillery started.  The search uncovered some not-so-nice tweets.  After seeing the profile pictures, I'd say the owners of said tweets were mostly under 20 (maybe a few 20-somethings were mixed in).  I shook my head at the pure loss of self-respect (and blatant abuse of the English language).

One could assume from the language and nature of the tweets that many of these kids have parents who fall into at least one of these categories:  (1) they don't know anything about Twitter, (2) the parents aren't aware their kids have a Twitter account, and (3) the parents aren't monitoring their kids as well as they think they are.

Parents, be warned: there is another potential danger on the Internet besides Facebook, and it's name is Twitter.

It's no longer enough to be your child's "friend" on Facebook.  According to this LA Times article, studies have begun to show the trend that teens are ditching their Facebook accounts for Twitter.  Some of the reasons why kids prefer Twitter over Facebook (i.e., the parents aren't monitoring them there) can be alarming to parents.

Before I go too far, I will admit: I don't have a child who uses Twitter.  My tween is counting down the days until she can get on Facebook to connect with friends and Sunday school teachers she dearly misses from Louisiana.  Twitter is an enigma to her (which is fine with me).  She likes the visual, interactive part of Facebook that I find distracting at times.  Still, we are on the same page when it comes to Facebook.  She finds foul language offensive and is very sensitive to it.  She started to read a book by a bestselling author and had to stop because the language was to offensive to her (which made me a proud mama for her standing her ground).  She knows that when she joins Facebook, she will befriend me.  And if she gets on Twitter, she will be followed by me. But I digress...

My simple, innocent Twitter search revealed this:  Twitter is a largely unmonitored playground for teens.  Not only are many teens using foul language, they are often belligerent and bullying.  Ambiguous statements run rampant (many kids don't use mentions in their Tweets), which could potentially lead to altercations later.

Whether or not kids know how to use mentions (@username) or hashtags (#trendingtopic), many do know how to use private, direct messages (DM) on Twitter, which parents can't see just by "following" or looking on a child's Twitter page.  Twitter allows you to use pseudonyms, which makes finding your child there a little more difficult.  Also, teens may or may not have location services turned on with their messaging device (phone, iPod, iPad, laptop).  This can be a blessing for parents who want to keep up with a child's location, but it can also spell disaster for kids who can become victims of child predators or other criminals.

Part of the poor language and attitudes displayed on Twitter by teens boils down to the desire to rebel and finding an outlet for that rebellion. Still, parents need to be aware that Twitter is a public forum and what your kids do online is broadcast in a wider arena than a passed note in class (or even a text message) would be.

No matter what the forum, public or not, or how well you monitor your kids, it comes down to one thing:  Know your child's heart.  Pray for them, their relationship with you and with Jesus, and pray that they will have the discernment to behave according to what they want for their future.  Just like Facebook, Twitter could easily ruin a future employment opportunity.  Remind your kids that what they write and say online are reflections of themselves. Make sure their images are positive and shining.

Here's a resource for learning the basics of Twitter: The Parent's Guide to Twitter.

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