A Letter To My Kid: 10 Safety Tips For Digital Youth

From the archives comes this humorous blog post from the perspective of a digital youth safety expert.  We, at Metaverse, moderate a variety of destinations, and have a keen perspective of trends regarding youth behavior and activity. The digital health of children and families is an important topic to us. Please enjoy!

Dear Johnny/Molly/Henry/Willamena Fredericka II/Bubba Adelbert,

My apologies for the multiple names.  You see, you’re still too far away to even be a twinkle in my eye, and in my Disney-youth I princess-dreamed all the names I’d have for my future kids. I thought I’d start with those.

Anyway, I digress.  Dear future muppet-of-mine,

izzy-piggyI’m writing you now, well in advance, about a few things that worry me regarding the current state of our youth online.  Seems like an odd topic, right?  Yes, well, I figure when you’re old enough to start using digital tools, I’ll be out of the loop (horrifying thought).

As you grow in the digital frontier, building new & amazing friendships while creating crazy-looking social avatars (if it looks like Bratz doll do not be surprised if you’re grounded) and sharing your budding theories on life and girls/boys and friendships, there are few requests I must share – well before I know you personally.  These are based on the current state of kid-dom, and not based on your actions (that I know of…). There is no reason to get all emo on me QUITE yet.

  1. Not Gonna HappenDuck lips: Don’t do it. Whatever the future version of “Instagram” is when you’re digitally active – avoid the duck lips at all costs, UNLESS you’re dressed like a duck.  It’s not cute, sweetheart, I don’t care what your friends do or say.

  2. Nudey pics: There’s a time and a place, and it’s when you’re a baby in the bathtub – and I promise, I won’t post those online (I’ll only show them to your future fianc–oh god, I’m getting way too ahead of myself).  We’ve all had our parents take those nudey bathtub pics, yes.  But that’s where it should end.  Don’t take nudey pics.

  3. Potty language: Just because your friends think its fun to curse and say rude things on Twitter or Snapchat doesn’t mean that it’s going to be fun for you when I see it.  And if you think you can hide a social account from me? Think again – you don’t know who your momma is…. I will stalk you until the ends of your days. Not a threat – a promise.

  4. Your behavior online is a reflection of me, too.  Straight up. Your actions online affect me, our family, my livelihood, and future meals on the table.  Not enough people explain this to their children – but it is the truth.  Even when you’re 40 years old, and I’m aging beautifully in my Squatter’s apartment on Main Street in Disney World (long story), your actions will reflect who I am, your aunt & uncle, your grandparents, your best friends, and our family name.  Have pride in us.

  5. Empathy & Understanding.  It’s hard growing up these days (or in the future days, which I don’t understand yet), particularly digitally – where you can see inner thoughts of developing minds splashed across profiles and smart phone applications.  If you mess up, I will understand – as long as you help me understand. And that goes for your friends – if they mess up, forgive them and find a way to move forward.  There’s no such thing as “black & white” – ask for meaning and context, be curious and loving.  It’s the Muppet way.

  6. “Because I said so.” -> if I say this, I am sorry.  I’m tired or frustrated, and I need a moment.  Take a breath, maybe gimme a wee hug, and say “Momma, I don’t understand.” You will win a legit response every time.

  7. aint-nobody-got-time-for-thatGetting into spats with peers / trolls / friends / siblings: They’re going to happen. Remind me to tell you about Sweet Brown.  She has this lovely message that I’ve really taken to my heart.  Because, at the end of the day, getting hurt by someone else? “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”  We can discuss further over dinner.

  8. The exception: Bullies.  Bullies are bored, bothered, sad creatures who are missing a piece of themselves.  They strive to be cruel because they are not-whole.  If you’re being bullied, it’s because they see that you have that piece which they are missing, and they’re jealous.  Bullies will always exist. Bullies try to make you weak, and they’re difficult to vanquish, but when you do, you will gain 2x the strength, as long as you do it with respect and understanding.  I will help you. I will help your friends. Together we will be clever, strong, and we will remove the bully, or we will help the bully find his/her missing piece.

  9. Secret IdentityPlease remember how special you are.  It’s because you’re special that I ask you to keep parts of your “truth” private.  Privacy will always be an asset and always be a challenge.  The idea of a “stranger” online is still being defined. I never want to stifle your curiosity in other people, cultures, or ideals. I simply need you to understand that YOU have the responsibility in keeping yourself safe, and that entails quite a bit of cleverness on your part. At times, we must be like Clark Kent, and protect aspects of our identities in order to protect our families, friends, and our personal safety: like last names, home and school, contact information, etc. It might be too easy to let your guard down and share with someone – talk to me if this happens.

  10. I’m sorry that I’m a horrible mom and won’t let you charge your smart phone in your room after lights-out.  I know I “suck” for not allowing a TV or a computer or a tablet or a laptop to exist as a feature in your bedroom.  It just ain’t gonna happen, dumpling.  Maybe when you’re 16 and can drive a (flying?) car, we’ll talk about it.  Until then: “Yes, I am a terrible mommola, and no, it’s not going to happen.”

Hmm. I feel like there’s a hundred more things to say and that I’ve not gone deep enough into certain aspects of safety and privacy and digital-self-respect.  But then again, I have to remember: you will hear this from me forever. FOR. EVER. And hopefully, you’ll appreciate it, the way I appreciate all the knowledge I got from my dad about liability and responsibility and protection (remember, Gramps is an Insurance man… and the very best of men, you can always go to him for advice.  But be prepared for a rant.  I’m just like him. You won’t get a rant from Grandma – you’ll get hugs and love and a kind, listening ear. Solid choices, you wee lucky monkey).

Anyway, my future-non-existent-muppet, I love you.  Be silly.  Be smart.  Be safe.

Whoop whoop,

Izzy Neis
Director of Digital Strategy and Engagement

p.s. Dear Parents & Friends: No. I am not pregnant.  Sheesh.

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