Milkids and social media

By now many of you have heard about the group calling itself the “Islamic State Hacking Division.” This group recently released a “kill list” which contained personal information including names and addresses of 100 military personnel. Immediately afterwards, many military spouses and service members shut down their social media accounts or changed their Facebook names to an obscure or snippeted portion of their name. It became a treasure hunt of sorts to try and find friends, old squadron mates or pals from the past on any social media site.

It’s unbelievable, really, that terrorist groups are targeting military folks. And while we hope these are idle threats, I still shudder to think about what would happen if ISIS decided to spread their reach via social media and go after our milkids.

Recently my teenaged babysitter, who I adore, scoffed at a mention of my posting a photo to my Facebook page. “I don’t do Facebook anymore,” she said. “No one does.” To this remark, I did a silent fist pump cheer and thought that meant there was one less social media platform to worry about for kids. But like whack-a-moles, when one social media platform dies or is retired to the land of the uncool, like MySpace or AOL, another one pops up.

“We do Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat,” she said and whipped out her phone to show me. I replied with a blank stare – the same one incidentally that I give my kids when they try to explain Minecraft to me. Snapchat and Twitter and Instagram? This doesn’t even include YouTube, which has been banned completely in our house except for the occasional glance at that cute panda sneezing video or the latest Star Wars trailer.

In the 80’s, my mother worried about my being the subject of a slam book (I was) or not being invited to the boy-girl party at the cool kid’s house (I was not). While I was in college, she fretted about me imbibing a wee bit too much and getting bad grades (no comment on either). I survived those years and should my kids come to me for advice on any of those topics, I’m an expert. But social media for our milkids in an era of kill lists and cyber threats from terrorists – how in the world are we supposed to deal with that?

Age restrictions for social media sites range in age. For Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr and Reddit, you must be 13 to have an account. Kids age 14 can go on LinkedIn, although I cannot imagine why. The minimum age for WhatsApp is 16 and for Vine and Tinder, it’s 17. For YouTube, it’s 18 but kids 13-17 can sign up with a parent’s permission. And realistically, banning your kids from these sites will only drive them to secrecy. But we really do have to remain vigilant. These terrifying risks and online international bullying threats are a stark reminder about life as a modern military parent.

Our job as parents is to guide, monitor and teach our kids. When it comes to electronics and social media, first and foremost we must be a good example. I posted that photo on Facebook, despite the admonishment from my sitter. But then I put down the phone, paid my sitter and watched as she walked to her car – her head tipped down at her phone. Then I called out to my girls and asked them to help me with dinner. And even when my phone started blinking with likes and comments, I ignored it.

Molly Blake is a freelance writer. Her husband recently retired after serving 20 years in the United States Marine Corps. She attended the University of Dayton and writes about issues affecting military families and other parenting issues. Follow her on twitter @mblakewrites.

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