Offensive tweets set up teaching moments
NEW YORK — At 13, Charlie Fish in Cincinnati has just been given the parental go-ahead to use social media for the first time. He’s also a competitive golfer, avid “SportsCenter” watcher and well aware of the attention received by offensive tweets posted years ago by some Major League Baseball players, some when they were teenagers themselves.
But is he old enough and mature enough to put all of those things together?
Some parents have seized on posts by Milwaukee Brewer Josh Hader, Atlanta Brave Sean Newcomb and Washington National Trea Turner as teaching moments about how living life online means your posts may never go away. They’re just not sure whether their young, uber-sharers are listening.
Charlie’s dad, Bill Fish, is hopeful that Charlie gets it. He’ll hope the same for his 9-year-old son when he, too, reaches the magical Fish family age of 13 and is allowed on Snapchat, Instagram or whatever the stream du jour will be.
“Charlie came to me about the story and how dumb the players were to be racist on Twitter,” said the senior Fish, who once captained the Xavier University baseball team. “I tried to convey that while only your buddies may see what you put online at this point, you never know when something could come back to bite you.”
Fish uses a shorthand with his kids that’s popular among parents, one that seems old fashioned: “My stance is to never put out anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read.” Those words are easy, but as a former head of a company focused on reputation management, Fish knows a thing or two about how old social media posts can rear later in life.
“You wouldn’t believe how many parents came to us after colleges dug up things their children posted online while going through the application process,” he said. “For these baseball players to be raked over the coals for something they said six or seven years ago seems a little unfair, but at the same time a great lesson to talk about what should and what shouldn’t be put on social media.”
What grandma may not know, along with youthful social media natives, is at the heart of the baseball controversy, along with why someone would make racist, sexist or anti-gay statements to begin with. Deleted tweets, private messages — just about anything — can be unearthed these days. For kids, the potential dangers of that are endless, from college admissions to rookie job interviews, both rites of passage likely not on the mind yet for 13-year-old Charlie.
Josef Blumenfeld in Natick, Massachusetts, outside Boston, is a communications expert serving educational technology companies. He’s also the father of two girls, 15 and 17. His oldest is on Twitter and posts a lot about makeup, youth activism and mental health, and the Boston Bruins.
“We talk about their social media activity all the time,” he said. “We often point to something ‘not smart’ that someone they know did on social media. They roll their eyes, but we keep doing it.”
The recent baseball tweets gone viral have not surfaced in their chats, but the subject of old posts resurfacing certainly has.
“Even disappearing photos on Instagram are discoverable,” Blumenfeld said.
The challenge for parents is to recognize that their kids may not consider social media a form of speech, said Ari Yares, a psychologist, parenting coach and father of four in suburban Washington, D.C.
“We keep talking to our kids about how, just like the spoken word, you can’t take back what you say online. It’s always out there,” he said. “The challenge in having these conversations with kids is that from a developmental perspective they don’t always see the impact that their actions can have.”
Another important lesson of the ball player tweets is helping young people understand “even their idols have done bad things that they regret,” said Dr. Gail Saltz, an associate professor of psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Weill-Cornell Medical College. “No one, including them, is immune to the negative consequences of making impulsive choices that did not take into account possible bad outcomes in the future.”
But are the regrets sincere, asks Maureen Paschal, who has four kids ranging from 14 to 24. She, too, has brought up the baseball tweets with some in her brood.
“My kids and I agreed that those players would have seemed more sincere in their apologies if they had cleaned up their social media accounts when they matured enough to see how awful those tweets were,” said Paschal, in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Cleaning up after they were caught isn’t a very convincing argument for their change of heart.”