This week one of my daughters, without really thinking it through, asked me about my life as a teenager. “How did you feel when your friends posted photos in their stories? When they were all having fun without you?” It only took a few moments for her to realise that photos of my teenage life were only available after a lengthy process involving acetic acid, water, ammonium thiosulphate and a dark room. It only took a few moments for me to realise just how different her teenage life is to my own. In that conversation, two things really hit home:
Reminder One: If this generation are going to live their lives online, they need to be aware of their online reputation. To help me understand just what this might look like, I went to the settings page on my Facebook account and downloaded all the data that Mr Zuckerberg has on me. Amongst other things, it picked out the areas that Facebook suggest to advertisers that I might be interested in. Premiership Rugby and Creo en Dios (I have no idea why it is in Spanish!) were two of the four things. My online reputation is that I am really not that interesting. But I wonder what data will be available on the pupils of Dean Close by the time they are in their 40s. Do they really know how much is being captured?
Reminder Two: If we don’t educate our children, YouTube will. When I was about 14 years old, I came out of my room to find a book left just outside my door. I forget the title of the book, but it contained all a teenage boy needed to know about sex. It was my father’s attempt at sex education. Later I was to discover that my mother sent him up to talk me through it all, it appears that he lost his nerve on the way up the stairs, left the book and walked quietly away! At that stage, the only other sources of information available to teenagers were a biology textbook and the odd conversation with friends. In today’s world, that is not the case. YouTube vloggers like Hannah Witton and Laci Green are readily available to provide full and frank sex education. I have no doubt that sex education from young women much closer to their age is probably infinitely preferable to a conversation with parents or teachers. For the most part, the vloggers have the best of intentions to provide an education that they lacked. The challenge comes if there are certain values that we want to instil, that may be at odds with the YouTubers.
If parents and educators don’t engage in open conversations with this generation, deal with our own inhibitions and talk through the joys and pitfalls of sexual relationships, there are many sources ready to fill that gap. This teenage life is so different from our own.