I recently had to borrow a book to read with my 2-year-old, titled “Teeth are Not for Biting.” It was great and she quickly realized that biting was not acceptable. I noticed the last book of the series is titled “Words Are Not For Hurting.” My heart dropped thinking about when she will need to read that book, and that there might be a day when she uses words intended to hurt. It recently hit me, however, that my 2-year-old isn't the needed target for this book.
Adults need this book more than anyone, and we're the ones setting the example for what is appropriate speech and behavior to our children. Social media have forever changed communication. People spout messages and language without regard to meaning or effect. Adults have the mistaken belief that they can say anything without regard to consequences.
I am amazed at what parents will write about their child's school or teachers on social media. What message are you sending to your children? You're telling them that the acceptable way to handle conflict and concern is to attack on the Internet from the privacy of your living room, rather than requesting a meeting that might actually make progress in alleviating those concerns. You have no regard for the hurtful nature of your words. How would you expect your child to resolve conflict with communication when you use Facebook to attack?
In a political election year, campaigns make vicious speech even more acceptable. Ordinary citizens take to social media to spout messages of what is “truth” and “right”, without consideration to those they offend. Whether you do, or do not, eat at Chick-fil-A is now a statement about your religious beliefs as well as your view on gay marriage.
I have chosen to use social media to keep in touch with friends. Do I have political beliefs? Of course. I simply don't believe social media is the proper forum for me to share them. We have forgotten that this is a country founded on the idea that we are allowed to have differing views but can all live peacefully together.
As a legal career counselor, the largest piece of advice I offer my students seeking employment is to drastically audit their social media content. Employers now use social media as a primary consideration in hiring employees. Companies are hired to do a seven-year social history audit, and think again if you think your content is “private.” The best policy is simply to use good judgment when using social media. It's a great tool for communication if you use it properly.
Remember, words are not for hurting. Let's teach our children that so they won't need a book to know how to communicate properly.
Delaney is director of the Office of Professional and Career Development at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.