14408306_10101149280235019_1896874612_oMiddle school is where a child’s social media foundation is poured. Not high school or college. Middle school. FIFTH GRADE. As a parent and educator, if you’re not thinking about it that way you’re playing a dangerous game with the future of America. 

“Hey kids, here’s this giant social media world,” Society says. “Go figure it out!”

That’s like telling me to go fly a fighter jet. Would I like to do it? Sure. Would I crash? Absolutely.

Children reach a certain age and we expect them to know how to do certain things in life — be polite, brush teeth, put on deodorant, fix hair, do chores — but social media education is rarely a topic that is seriously tackled. Many parents and educators are clueless, so the issue is kicked down the road. The problem with that is if today’s fifth graders don’t learn the right way to do things on the various social media platforms, that high school and college student, then working professional, isn’t as prepared as he or she should be… and deserves to be.

My soon-to-be 13-year-old and his friends are good examples of some of the weaknesses in social media preparation. They crave screen time like it’s King Cake. They want to have accounts on Snapchat and Instagram and YouTube, but at what expense? A story I use when I talk to school groups goes like this…

A group of fifth graders got together for a sleepover and late at night one of the kids decided to do a YouTube live stream. He’s running around showing the goofy things that fifth graders do and during the video you can hear him say, “Don’t worry, no one will ever see this. I don’t have any subscribers!” Neither he nor the kids did anything off-color in the video, but it was so easy to see how this could have gone sideways. What if he would have gone into the bathroom or a bedroom and broadcast one of his friends changing clothes? Or doing something illegal? Once a video is posted online it’s out there and, in most cases, anyone can find it. REGARDLESS OF NUMBER OF SUBSCRIBERS. Kids have been suspended, expelled and even arrested for stupid, thoughtless things posted on social media. Did you know parents can be arrested their child’s social media misstep? There are countless examples. We should not let our kids fall into this trap. 

This generation of middle schoolers has grown up with social media. They’ve had phones and tablets in their hands since a young age. They’re more technologically advanced than any segment of young people in the history of the world. Think about that. THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD. And we say, “Go figure it out!”

I’ve done my Social Media Boot Camp for college student-athletes and, at times, have marveled at how it all went so wrong. Many of them just don’t understand why they can’t post memes denigrating women, racially-charged content, or F bombs directed at politicians. It’s my page they say. My account. Free speech. They only retweeted it. They don’t realize it’s not just about them anymore when they get free tuition and have a school’s football helmet or uniform in their bio. They don’t realize how easily they could put their school president, athletic director or head coach in a bad situation. In one case, I know as a result of my presentation, a head football coach dressed down his team after practice the next day. He was floored when he learned what some of his players had been posting. 

Obviously, many student-athletes aren’t learning what they should at a young age and the poor social media education is colliding with things down the road that can alter lives. Things that middle schoolers are putting on social media today could affect their high school choice. High school social media disasters can affect college choices. College slip-ups can affect career choices. Realistically, any bad social media choice along the way could come back to haunt someone years later.

A solid foundation has to be poured for our young people NOW. There’s no more kicking it down the road. It starts today. The deep end of the pool sucks if you can’t swim.