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Why I Don’t Tell My Kids “the Internet is Forever”

I speak to teens differently than speak to adults. I’m probably much more candid with teens than I’d ever be with adults in part because they’re more accepting and in part because they’re more deserving of my candor. I’ve learned more from 15 year olds than from 50 year olds in this chapter of my life.

I’ve had more than a few people tell me that I’ve given misinformation in a post that I wrote last week when I said:

By now, my braless teenage friend, you know that adults have lied to you because you’ve seen plenty of things be deleted, you’ve seen entire social networking sites disappear (MySpace anyone?) and you know not to trust those adults who tell you that the internet is forever and that the world thinks you’re dirty.

Do MySpace images still exist? Yes, of course they do. The kids have been told that they still exist but the odds of one of their pictures coming back to haunt them must be one in a billion.

The whole The Internet is Forever scare speech is overdone. Though it’s mostly accurate the kids are still kids with partially formed frontal lobes and a limited amount of self control. Kids are going to make mistakes, lots of them, and most mistakes have small consequences. We don’t tell them that every time they cross the street without looking they’ll be hit by a car. If we told them that they’d know we are stupid.

So yes, the pictures we posted on MySpace in the last millennium are still there but the pictures I posted on Whrrl (sold to Groupon) are not. Could someone have saved them? Yes. Is it possible that there’s a screengrab of me misbehaving? Yes. Is it more likely that nothing will ever come of these. Absolutely. What malice have you imagined?

My point in my other post may have been lost on a few people. The most important thing that I wanted to convey to teenage girls is that many people (myself included) won’t judge them for being a little sexy or a little silly. I wanted to remind them that though there may be people behind pulpits hell bent on ostracizing them for the crime of being teens most of the world will sort of glance at these poses, shrug and move on. It’s not brilliant to take or share sultry photos but it also doesn’t define who you are.

Although technically photos may be around for a good long time and although social media teachers and techies will be able to give you stories about photos resurfacing and kids becoming depressed or suicidal that’s not the norm. The norm is that most photos are simply never seen again because we’re not all that interesting.

So technically, yes, I got the details wrong. But common sense says that it’s the right discussion to have.