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MARIST BROTHERS LINMEYER

The Digital Footprint and the Dangers Thereof

I have been fortunate enough to view and listen to many discussions about the effect of youth using, and possibly abusing the digital media space. I recently read a book by Emma Sadleir and Lizzie Harrison entitled, “Selfies, Sexts and Smartphones” which is a MUST READ for all pupils from Grade 5 upwards. It is written in “teenage lingo” and is a simple, yet serious, account of the realities, dangers and wonders of the world of social media and digital content.

Immediately alarming is the case for the caution around the posting of any digital photograph without prior thought. The authors argue that the posting of any photograph into the social media space can be photo shopped, cropped or adapted by anyone who receives or views that photograph and then shared, liked or tweeted to millions of other people (some who thrive on such things) in a matter of seconds. The problem (regardless of how innocent the original photograph was), is that the creator posted it, willingly, into the digital unknown. More importantly, the sender is legally responsible for it – forever. It can never be deleted fully, or hidden, or removed – as once the “digital footprint” has been established, there is always a way that the “digital detectives” will find it – scary!

Our youth need guidance in this area. The authors note that the brain only fully develops at about age 25. Our brains develop, broadly speaking, from back to front, with our prefrontal cortex being one of the last areas to develop. This is significant when one considers the roles of the prefrontal cortex include that of decision making and impulse control. For this reason, the youth – when combined with social media – can be a hazard to both themselves and others. Without fully functioning impulse control, they do things, literally, without thinking. They will post, send or take a photograph of something without a second thought about the potential consequences. There is nothing even a neurosurgeon can do to adjust this natural timeline of development. The only support they have in this regard is us, the parents.

Based on the above, it is imperative that we as parents guide our children in this regard. We need to teach our offspring to put checks in place before they push the button which sends the digital content into the unknown. In Emma’s talks, she mentions the “jump-in-the-tummy test” – if you are about to send/post/create something and you get that funny tummy feeling – don’t send it! Wait 10 minutes or never send it at all. We all have an overinflated ego on social media. We are more bold, more outspoken and only want people to see our “special” moments. In the book the authors recommend the following – If you wouldn’t put the content you intend to create in digital format on a billboard in your area, displaying a photograph of your face, your name and the name of your school, then you absolutely must not let it exist.

I could go on writing about this for many more pages but I recommend that all parents buy their children a copy of the above mentioned book (no royalties received – promise). It is available in most bookstores and through online shopping. This link will take you to the information you require: Selfies, Sexts and Smartphones: A teenager’s online survival guide, we have purchased two copies for the MRC, but believe me, they won’t be easily available.

A must read for ALL parents and TEENAGERS.

Tony Williams.