Nothing Online Is Private: The Awkward Talk With My Son About Social Media

Nothing Online Is Private: The Awkward Talk With My Son About Social Media

The Internet is public and forever, but what happens when a teen doesn’t realize that?

By: Wendy Robinson

I found out that my 17-year-old stepson was in love via social media. I was up late one night and, on a whim, decided to check out his profile, which was unlocked and public. In addition to the fact that he was in love, I also found out that he was planning to get a gigantic tattoo on the day he turned 18, that several of his female friends had shockingly sexy selfies as their profile pictures, and that he sometimes made funny (but mean) comments about the customers from the store where he works.

That night, after I showed my husband the tweets, I logged off and sat for a long while trying to decide what to do next. I believe my stepson is a generally good and responsible kid, by teenage standards, and deserves to have some privacy in his personal life. I know I didn’t tell my parents everything when I was in high school and college, but that was also before digital cameras, smartphones, and social media made it so easy for private moments to get shared to an almost unlimited audience. My husband and I were admittedly a little hurt that our son was in what seemed to be a serious romantic relationship but hadn’t told us about it. Add to that the worry about just where exactly that gigantic tattoo was going to go and it was clear it was time for a talk.

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One of the first things I did was to follow my stepson on social media, so he’d know I was there and could see his profile. My husband, who is not a social media fan, decided that although he shared my concerns, this version of “the talk” was the perfect opportunity for me to bond with my stepson. I suspect that he just didn’t want to admit that he doesn’t totally get social media. Wimp.

When the time came for the talk, I felt a bit awkward at first: “So, um, you know I follow you online, right? So … about that tattoo …”

It turned out that the tattoo was relatively easy to talk about, at least compared to talking about his love life.

“I just don’t think you and Dad need to know about stuff like who I’m seeing. Do you really want to know if I’m hooking up or whatever?”

“Well, the thing is, if you put it on social media, anyone can know about your love life, including us …”


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We ended up having a long talk about public versus private and about how the Internet is forever. He didn’t, and still doesn’t, totally agree with me about what is appropriate to put out there, especially when it comes to the possibility of future employers reading something. Now, though, he knows that he might get a direct message from me when something raises my eyebrows … like his plans for that second tattoo.

How do you talk to your teen about social media?

Wendy Robinson is a writer, working mom, and graduate student. Someday she'd like to sleep in again. She also blogs at

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