Spring Cleaning in the Age of Social Media

Encourage your child to do a little online spring cleaning
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If you don’t think what you share and like on social media — or whom you follow — reflects your character, think again. Tennys Sandgren, the first American to reach the quarterfinals in the Australian Open since 2010, learned this lesson the hard way a few weeks ago — in the spotlight of the American press.

After being accused of homophobia, racism and supporting controversial ideas on Twitter, Sandgren deleted every tweet he had posted and started fresh. In an ESPN interview he said, “It’s not something I’m really necessarily embarrassed about or anything like that. It just seemed like creating a version of a cleaner start is not a bad call.”

Our social media accounts absolutely reflect who we are, what we value and how we think. During a press conference, Sandgren tried to explain that it was ludicrous to judge him based on articles he had shared, views he had tweeted and even accounts he had followed. But, of course, we judge, and our judgment isn’t limited to pro athletes.

Teens’ accounts, too, should reflect the person they would want to be during an interview at a national press conference. It could mean the difference between getting, keeping or losing an internship, college acceptance or spot on the football team. Tennys Sandgren made history at the Australian Open, but he’ll be remembered for his tweets.

Encourage your child to “create a version of a cleaner start” by doing a little online spring cleaning. Use it as an opportunity to talk about his or her goals and values, how those values appear to others on social media, and how posts and other online statements can help him or her accomplish what’s most important.

Here are four steps to spring cleaning in this age of social media.

1. Evaluate last year’s content. There’s probably no need for your child to delete every post, like Sandgren did. But it’s a good idea for your child to look back on what he or she liked, favorited, shared, followed and conversed about using social media. Anything that doesn’t reflect your child’s core values, goals and interests should be edited or deleted. Of course, screenshots of the original post(s) may still be out there, but at least your child will have set the record straight wherever possible.

2. Review phone and app settings. Devices and apps are regularly updated. Does your child know what settings have changed or new ways to protect himself or herself? How about how to use a device or apps in good, purposeful ways?

3. Clean out the contact list. Many apps pull information from a device’s contact list, so encourage your child to merge duplicates and delete contacts he or she no longer needs. Apps like Smart Merge and Cleaner Pro turn what would be a long, arduous and terribly boring experience into a 5-minute job.

4. Be choosy about follows. Have your child review the people he or she follows on favorite apps, and encourage the unfollowing of those who do not support his or her goals and values. Ask your child to be picky. Really, really picky.

The average adult in 2017 spent 5 hours and 50 minutes consuming digital and social media each day, according to digital marketing company eMarketer. In 2015 Common Sense Media reported that teens spend 9 hours each day on social media alone.

The good news? To a large extent, your child can control what he or she sees and hears on social media, and use it to become the best version of himself or herself possible.

Laura Tierney is founder and president of The Social Institute, which offers students positive ways to handle one of the biggest drivers of their social development: social media. She also recently became a mom. Learn more at thesocialinstitute.com.


Categories: Kids + Media, Parenting, Technology, Teens