Before we get into the meat of today's post, a few items. It's going to be a busy few weeks at bradenbell.com! I understand the first shipment of books might come today (if you haven't ordered, it's not to late to do so for a killer deal! Here). I'll be posting new chapters this week, new memes, pictures, maybe even a trailer. I might even devise some kind of kick-of contest or something. There will be a blog tour of course--lots and lots of stuff. Anyway, all this to say, check back often!
What I have to say today is not new, nothing most people haven't heard many times. But still, I think that it bears repeating--and the way it happened definitely left an impression on my mind.
A few months ago I thought it might be fun to set up Facebook accounts for my three main characters. They are 7th graders, so I reasoned they would be on Facebook. I thought it would be a good way to marry verisimilitude with social media, a good way to get the word out about the book and so on.
So, I set the accounts up using the characters's names and photos from the trailer. That included filling out their birth dates, which I created. Since I wasn't ready for them to go live, I didn't fill anything else out on their profile. Just a picture and a birthdate. I created the accounts and then left them alone. In fact, I forgot about them until a few days ago. Then, I decided it was time to get them going.
When I logged in to finish their profiles and start them up, I was surprised to see that they had Friend requests. I was even more surprised to see that they were friend results from adults--who have not read the book, who do not know me, and have absolutely no business sending such requests to 13 year olds! Frankly, I find that incredibly creepy.
I'm not a Facebook hater. I think there is a lot of good that comes from it--I blogged about it here, as a matter of fact.
But there are important safeguards that must be observed. Children--including adolescents--need to be supervised carefully. They need to be taught about online safety, and then they need to be supervised. Guided, directed. Parented.
Adolescents are particularly ill-suited to make decisions about their online presence. Like small children, they are not aware of how bad people can be. But unlike younger children, they lack natural reticence and a healthy fear of strangers. They bring overconfidence and lack of caution to their naivete. I find that combination profoundly unsettling.
What kind of people send Friend requests to 13 year old girls they never have met? I don't know. And that is the point. A reminder that we don't know who is out there--and what their motives are.
I added notes to my character's profiles to make clear that they are fictional characters in a book, and that the things they "do" and "say" online are all from the author. I hope that will be transparent enough to make it clear to all that these are not real kid--they are figments of my imagination and that their words are mine.
At any rate--I strongly suggest that parents monitor their children's online presence. I think you ought to know their passwords and get in frequently. See what messages they are getting--what Friend requests, and from whom. I maintain that your presence in your child's life--and his or her awareness of your presence--will be a wonderful shield to them. The fact that they know that you will want to know things will be a powerful protectant.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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Please don't steal my words! Whatever I lack as a writer, it's still one of the few skills I have.
If you foolishly disregard this warning, I will send this guy after you. He's 6' 6".