Dr. Wes: I’ll bet when you first heard about Twitter, you thought “Seriously? Do I care that someone is getting a Big Mac right now in Alabama?” I didn’t. But as I’ve given myself over to the Twitosphere, I’ve found that in addition to helping middle-eastern rebels overthrow despotic regimes, Twitter offers some great teen writing. Hard to believe in such short form, but I actually find myself returning again and again to substantial work from kids across the globe. I try and retweet many of these thoughts and I keep a list of my favorite feeds. You can catch them by following me @wescrenshawphd. Fair warning: While my retweets are pretty clean, most teenagers on Twitter speak just as they do to each other, so it’s often profane. But, if you can handle the topics and language, you’ll learn almost as much about today’s teens as you would sitting in my chair.
Some of their words are silly, others beautiful, others quite ugly, and, as Miranda notes, some are downright mean. But you’ll also find profound advice passed from one teen to the next in a real spirit of social support. Around here that’s worth something. All of those words are there for the taking, as few teens keep their feed set to “private,” which brings me to this: Think before you tweet. Many users routinely post how much they hate their [insert explicative] jobs, school, parents, friends, etc. Twitter is many things, but it is NOT shouting into your pillow, where such sentiments are best shared. Instead, think of it as a tiny text radio. Anyone and everyone may be listening, so choose your message wisely.
Now back to the cool side. Seventeen-year-old Sandra from Canada is a poet. I’m not sure she knows that, but members of my Kansas City Writers Group voted her one. Right after sharing that she went jogging and never liked Vitamin Water, she wrote a series of responses to the hashtag #BestThingInLife. I’ve previously cut and pasted her work into little poems and blogged them. Today I’ll share her latest with our Double Take readers, edited only by deleting all but the first tag. Not everything on Twitter is this good, but when you find the posts that are, it’s like finding a pearl.
Cute text messages that have you smiling at your phone like an idiot.
Listening to songs that give you chills down your spine.
Long conversations at night.
Crawling into bed after a long day.
Waking up and realizing you still have a few hours left to sleep.
Accidentally overhearing someone saying something nice about you.
Finding something that you’ve been searching for.
Falling asleep to the sound of rain.
Laughing so hard to the point where you cannot breathe.
A hot shower on a cold day.
Proving someone wrong when you do something they said you couldn’t do.
Shortly after finishing this reflection, Sandra shared that she and her friends were breaking pencils over their heads. Ah, to be seventeen again.
Miranda: Like any technology, Twitter has its good side and its bad side. As always, make sure to set specific guidelines for your child or teen’s use and keep communication open. Remember once you click send, it’s permanent. Even if you delete the tweet, it may be too late. Someone may have retweeted it on or copied and saved it.
With those guidelines in mind, Wes is right, Twitter can be a very useful tool for teens. Our generation will find that being familiar with social networking and how to use it in a commercial and business enterprise will be necessary in the job market.
Twitter can also be used to find people out there similar to you or those pursuing your desired career path. For example, I follow professional journalists and read the articles they link to their accounts. Expanding your horizons is very easy with the help of Twitter.
And now for the dark side. “Twitter drama” and confrontation between two people is very common. This is typically immature and should be avoided. “Twitter bullying” is committed by those too cowardly to say something face-to-face, who instead hide behind their computers to make their feelings known. The “subtweet” involves making a statement directed at one single person, personal enough that all of the person’s followers know who it’s about, which makes it even easier to be the mean kid on Twitter.
Avoiding these pitfalls as well as keeping personal information private is essential. By making smart decisions as a teen and as a parent, you can insure a safe, intelligent social networking experience that doesn’t haunt you down the road.
Wes Crenshaw, PhD is board certified in family and couples psychology (ABPP), and author of the books Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens and Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens. Learn about his writing and practice at www.dr-wes.com. Miranda Davis is a Free State High School senior who has co-authored the column since August 2011, and is the eighth in a series of teen co-authors. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to email@example.com. The column is reprinted from Double Take, published weekly since 2004 in The Lawrence Journal World. Opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.
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