As we document and share our lives, there are serious implications on the future that most children are not considering.

Most adults in the UAE have social media, and it is a great way to communicate with our family back home. One click to take a photo, one second to share, and the moment is experienced with our friends and family far and near. How lovely it is that grandparents can experience the joy of the first race, the birthday cake and other triumphs in real time thousands of miles away, but how can this possibly be something of concern?

In that one second you have shared joy and love across many countries, but imagine an innocent photo of your 14-year old daughter, who has picked up a wine glass and is smiling mischievously as she takes a sip and you take that snap. It’s all in good fun and you both know it only contains a soft drink, but others don’t. And what playful comment do you add – “following in her mother’s footsteps”… “starting young”? It’s irrelevant really, as a picture tells a thousand words and her story has been shared. Her school see the photo, the world sees the photo for many years to come, they interpret the photo the way they want. This seemingly innocent snap has her tagged to the world as a child in peril, who is a party animal of note, a teenage drinker, and her college application will be profiled against her social media account. Extreme maybe, but although the photo is consumed in a moment, that instance will make a lasting impression for a lifetime.

Think how many times you may have joked with your friends that you are happy social media wasn’t around when you were younger, but for many of us this is so very true.

Think again how often have you checked the social media profile of someone to find out more, have you formed a judgement through the pictures you find there? I know I for one have.

Every day you, your child, and your husband, create a “digital autobiography” through the new relatively modern terminology of “selfies”. The average millennial will take 25,700 selfies throughout their life and people continue to trust pictures more than words. In reality, selfies have been going on for decades, artists drew themselves and others but this new addition has the instant potential for worldwide exposure.

You can no longer destroy the original and assume there are no more copies. Research shows that the more social media that a person is exposed to, the more problems they are likely to face such as addiction, cyberbullying and psychological effects. Social media addiction is a real thing, but social media is not real life, for social media stars the photos take a team of people and several hours to create the perfect “snap”. It is likely as a family you don’t have a team walking behind you, lighting and editing every snap you and your children take. Your photos are raw and reflect a crack to view the reality (even if slightly edited) of your everyday life.

The idea of focusing so much on selfies may seem strange, but we should actually put serious thoughts into our selfies and any other social media commentary that we post. In today’s social media-driven world, every single person should consider themselves a “brand” when it comes to social media, your child’s social media profiles will affect them for the rest of their lives.

Treating yourself as a brand can help negate the chance of a social media faux pas (something that can generate negative backlash from your peers and result in bullying), keeping the idea of a brand can help prevent your digital autobiography from becoming a horror story.

With the language and tactics being used by “trolls” and cyber attackers, even confident grown adults are pushed to the edge of depression and struggle to escape an attacker who has infiltrated every angle of their social media story. Suicide, as a result of bullying is recognized as the third leading cause of death in teenagers. Cyberbullying is different from traditional bullying, it is not just that messages can be sent electronically but that it can be done anywhere 24 hours a day and the harassing messages, images and videos can be distributed to a wide audience.

Following a set of simple rules to dictate the type of content and the style of photos taken and posted to any social media account will help prevent any nightmare scenarios before they begin. Your social media account should be a brand ambassador for your life philosophy. The more consistent you are, the more likely your social media will be a successful tool for you and an enjoyable read for your friends and family (and anyone else who drops in for a look around).

Many parents have rules with their children regarding what they post, who they friend etc., but what about friends who post about your children? The digital footprint for a newborn baby in this generation begins before a child has even breathed on its own. Your child’s biography is started before they can even read or write.

The average parent will have uploaded nearly 1000 photos of their child before they are five years old. Some parents upload pictures of their teenagers yet won’t allow the child to have their own account. I feel as though I know so many children of distant friends even though I have never even met them. This combination of photos and comments gives children an identity in the outside world which may not even be their true character.

The wide use of smartphones with built-in cameras and the rise of Instagram and other image sharing platforms have inspired billions of people to try photography. More than 1.2 trillion images are taken annually worldwide. A camera is now as much used as a pencil. If you need to take a number down you photograph it rather than writing it. Every child is given a pencil to draw and taught to write, some turn into artists and some don’t, today it is the same with photography, it is the first time that every child has their own camera to play around with, how many of us take time to show a child how to take a photo, what to look for in a picture before they post it, how to ensure the photo tells not just a story but a good story. A picture that reflects the subject and the family positively.

Content generated by social media users is protected under copyright but, and there is always a but, the user’s terms and agreements give the social media company a license to use posted content. So, for example, a photo you provide to your social media might end up giving a site license to use it in advertising. This means that while as a social media user you still technically still own your status, tweets and photos, you don’t have the final say on to how it will be used.

Added to this not only do the big social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have their ways around using your content, they are also tracking your every move as these companies rely on user analytics to sell advertising opportunities to potential clients. Don’t forget, if these sites’ security is breached, the responsibility can be fought in the courts but it is your data that the hackers now have.

Our children are the pioneers of the social media age, they are the first generation to live, create and breathe their own digital autobiographies from a young age, it surely has to be our responsibility as parents to ensure the story they are telling is a good one.

Our children have the skills to use social media as a tool to underline and propel the positives and harness the power to campaign for what is right to share and create their life philosophy. Make sure their storytelling skills are the best they can be, and the story they write is one that will give them a key to the best university or job opportunity in the future. Social media is, after all only a marketing tool so the skill is to ensure its use is positive and effective and strong.

As a social media user, there is only one person that can be responsible for what is said and done and privacy settings do not always mean private. When your child starts driving you will give them lessons, yet a social media account travels the world faster than they ever will, so give them the skills and knowledge to make it a successful and positive lasting legacy for them, their children and their grandchildren.

About the author:

Heather Harries, is the founder of Kids Full, which provides academic coaching and higher learning support, homework clubs, extra-curricular activities, social skills, and vocational teaching, as well as bespoke courses for adults.

“The Power of Social Media” course is a 4-week course designed for children between the ages of 10-14 or call Heather on 04 566 5723 if you would like her to talk to your school or youth group about responsible use of social media.

Read more:

Learning How to Study is The Key to Success for Your Child

Teenagers and Technology

Making Our Daughters Aware of Their Sexuality

Will Your Child Be Behind When They Leave Dubai

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