Teens don't really understand that the world can see what they do online, but I do

The author reflects on their own online mistakes as a teenager, expressing wishes for how adults could have better handled the situation.

Teens don't really understand that the world can see what they do online, but I do

Andrea Settimo, as featured in The New York Times

Written by Lux Alptraum

Publication Date: Sunday, 13th August 2023, 10:31 PM

Matthew McConaughey and his wife, Camila Alptraum, surprised their followers this summer by announcing a new Instagram account for their son Levi on his 15th birthday. This move highlights the varying approaches celebrities take when it comes to their children's social media presence. Some, like Apple Martin, daughter of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, keep their accounts private, while others, like DJ Khaled's son, have been on social media since infancy.

Regardless of the approach, the public often scrutinizes and ridicules personal revelations, casual remarks, and family disputes. For instance, Ted Cruz's daughter became a viral sensation at 13 after publicly disagreeing with her father's political views on TikTok. Similarly, the daughter of Sofia Coppola and Thomas Mars gained attention after discussing her punishment for using her father's credit card without permission on TikTok.

The internet often reacts with delight to these glimpses into the private lives of celebrities or those related to them. However, teenagers today, who have never known a world without social media, may not fully understand the risks of making their personal lives public. Even the most tech-savvy individuals may struggle to grasp the implications of global visibility.

The author, Lux Alptraum, shares her own experience of sharing intimate details of her life online as a college student. Despite understanding the public nature of her posts, she felt as though the internet was her private playground. However, she soon learned that her posts were not as private as she thought when people she knew discovered them and turned against her.

In today's social media age, teenagers often believe that while their friends can see their online activities, the rest of the world cannot or will not care. However, this belief is often proven wrong. While there have been legislative attempts to protect teenagers online, Alptraum argues that the focus should be on changing how adults interact with teenagers online.

For example, when Sofia Coppola's daughter's video went viral, it was adults who saved, reuploaded, shared, and mocked it. The internet being public is often used as a justification for amplifying anything found online, even if it involves a child.

Alptraum suggests that we should learn from celebrities' approach to their children's online presence. She argues that we should give teenagers the space to explore their identities and make mistakes without fear of public humiliation. She also calls for a new internet etiquette that considers and protects teenagers. If they post something embarrassing, we should refrain from reposting or favoriting it. Instead, we should ask ourselves how we would react if we saw it in person and make a better choice.

Lux Alptraum is a podcaster and the author of 'Faking It: The Lies Women Tell About Sex — and the Truths They Reveal.' This article originally appeared in The New York Times.