I hadn’t been online all day on Thursday. Then around 10:00 p.m., I pull out my phone and hit “The Facebook” for some down time. At first I was confused as a friend’s post read, “I think it’s white and gold but my kids insist it’s blue and black.” I had no idea what they were talking about. Then I started to scroll through and literally every post was debating this issue. It took me about four posts to realize that we were all discussing an ugly dress (no matter the color). People thought it was an illusion or mind trick. The same dress looked like two sets of colors at the same time to different people. There were articles. There were hashtags like #teamwhitegold. By Friday articles began to creep up about the “science” behind the phenomena. The manufacturer confirmed the dress only came in blue and black. Photographers started to talk about the bad lighting and photo manipulation. I kept thinking, “Why do I care about this?” (I know *gasp*) Honestly, I didn’t. However, when I brought it up from main stage at a camp I was speaking at the crowd erupted. It was still at the center of our world on Saturday as I overheard the young adult aged worship team have an hour debate about it after lunch. By Sunday the trend was waning. Yesterday, I awoke to the usual onslaught of weight loss, Floridians and Californians making fun of your winter, people’s children being funny, Time Hop and of course the invitation to play Candy Crush (will that ever go away?). The dress had come and gone, so fast that I almost missed being able to blog about it.
Youth leaders and parents live among a sea of Digital Natives. We on the other hand are Digital Immigrants. This means you and I remember a time when we were not tethered to our devices and certainly not social media. We recall a moment in history where everything we thought was not a PSA. Our youth however, do not remember these days. All they have ever known is a time when you share everything to everyone. The methods might change (My Space is always a running joke around group) however, the need to be seen and heard publicly is only growing. If this is true we need to intentionally teach our students three things. These may seem like “no brainers” to you, but I literally have conversations about these topics weekly:
What Are Real Relationships?
Sociologists share that there are three types of ways we are tied to others:
- Weak Ties: These are “acquaintances.” People we interact with but are not emotionally attached to. These are people who we don’t truly know in real life. These are public Instagram, Twitter or Google Plus followers. We have never actually interacted with them in any “true” way beyond online.
- Strong Ties: Those people most important to us. These are friends and family that we actually come in contact with beyond the online world. These are the people we share our true selves with. They are the ones who celebrate our birthdays WITH us not just by posting a “Happy Day” on a timeline somewhere.
- Intermediate Ties: Those that fall in between the two. There are some online relationships that can turn into true friendships. You might really interact with people and get to know them. However, these are people that at some point in time we actually met in the “real” world.
Teach your students online safety on who they interact with. YET! Also teach them the difference in actual relationships. Famous people they interact with online, even Taylor Swift who sends presents from time to time, are not real friends just because they “liked” their picture.
Just because you think it doesn’t mean you have to share it.
Someone told me this once, “Before you post a thought or picture think to yourself would you share this with a pastor and your grandma?” The point is teach your students to wait before they post things that are hurtful, embarrassing, controversial, demeaning or bitter. Curt Schilling retired Red Sox player celebrated his daughter’s athletic achievements publicly the other day. What crawled out of holes were creatures who thought that making disgusting, rude and even vile comments about sexual acts with a girl they had never met were alright. In what world did anyone think it was ok to be this degrading? Well, we live in a world where if you think it, you share it. Teach your students the old adage, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Remind them of this often.
There is “Fake” Online
This summer the phenom was the ice bucket challenge, this weekend it was the dress, and tomorrow we will get caught up in something else entirely. We move on to the latest and greatest with barely a hiccup. Our students SAY they know the difference between real and fake. Yet, the next time someone doesn’t like an Instagram picture they are having a deep discussion with us about, “What did I do wrong, my friend doesn’t like me anymore.” We can’t possible just not have seen said picture. I think the downside to the Digital Native is that they have never learned naturally how to separate out that we present ourselves online in a different light (and literally a filter) than our everyday lives. They get caught up in the latest craze and don’t even realize it’s insignificance. We need to teach them to understand what matters and what’s fluff. A debate about a dress may have been a silly pastime but if we get over invested in it then something is off.
There are times when the digital world can be used for truth. Curt Schilling used his blog to call out the guys who were attacking his daughter. Some of them have been suspended from college and have been held accountable to their actions. A Dad whose daughter was being bullied used YouTube to get noticed, and the school finally stepped up taking it seriously after it went public. Injustice can be exposed and dealt with swiftly and this is good. Technology we must remember is not good or bad, it’s how we use it. Team blue/black is silly until you start taking it to heart and losing friendships over it. (Stranger things have happened.) The KEY is teaching our students WHEN and HOW to post and HOW to be ourselves ALL of the time. Apparently some guy tattooed a picture of the “dress” on his leg. Really, did no one tell him “Dressgate” is already done? Let’s teach students to navigate the world ahead before the next proverbial dress appears.
What are you doing to teach your students?