It is in theory a theme of this blog to discuss issues related to parenting and managing technology. And I do. A quick search of parenting and technology or kids and technology will yield quite a few posts. Laura pointed to this New York Times article about how parents’ concerns about the Internet have shifted from worrying about online predators to concern over cyber bullying. Frankly, I think the shift is good. The likelihood that a child will be harmed by an online predator is very, very slim while the chances that they’ll be exposed to harmful comments and even hurt by them by friends and acquaintances is pretty certain, sadly.
Laura asked about parental security software and I rejected the idea completely in my comments. I think software to “protect” your kids from bad things online is pretty silly, actually. First, it’s not perfect at determining what’s bad, and it might block good things and not block all the bad things. Second, if, as a parent, you think it is blocking all that it needs to, you might stop paying attention to what your kids are doing online. The best way, I think, to help your kids navigate the online world is to stay involved. Here are some things you need to do:
1. Get online yourself. Set up a Facebook account. Figure out how it works. Friend your kids–yes, friend them and don’t let them block you. Do not, however, post things about what your kids post publicly. That’s just mean. If you have a problem with something, talk to them about it.
2. Keep the computer in a public place and check in with your kids while they’re online. Stand over them and ask, “So, what are you looking at?” Ask lots of questions about what they’re doing or have been doing online. Do it in a way to show interest–your kids will find some funny and interesting things that you will never find–but also have a critical eye about what they’re viewing and think about whether it’s appropriate.
3. Talk to your kids about appropriate behavior online. We started with not posting personal information like address and phone number. Now we’re talking about posting things that might get them in trouble when applying to college or a job.
4. Limit the amount of time your kid spends online. This is the hardest for us. Since we both work online and play online, we blur the distinction. Our kids can’t tell if we’re working or playing while we’re on the computer and we’re on pretty constantly. The same is becoming true of our teenager. He had to make a video for class and a lot of his assignments are posted online. As a typical teenager, he multitasks, switching between Facebook, YouTube and his schoolwork. We’re just beginning to talk to him about limiting the multitasking.
The site mentioned in the NY Times article, Common Sense Media, is a good one and one I’ve mentioned to parents and teachers. There, you can find out trends and if your teens or kids aren’t forthcoming about what’s happening online, can give you some material to work with when asking questions. They also offer programs and curriculum for schools, which some schools are adopting. It’s a very good idea.
Even with all of the checking up and checking in, your kids will do things you don’t know about. Geeky Boy uses the IM feature in Facebook more than anything. I have no access to those messages. He also texts a lot on his phone. Again, I don’t see those. But I ask about them. Over spring break, his phone kept buzzing and he kept texting and I asked, “Who are you texting?” And thus, found out about the girlfriend. We have rules, which he’s been mostly good about following. The phone cannot be out during family interactions–at the dinner table, during a family outing, etc. It has to stay in the office during the evening (to avoid middle of the night texting). And it will get taken away if his grades fall. Yes, it’s a brave new world, but it seems better to me than some of the things I did as a teen, most of which involved being in places where my parents had no way of contacting me if they even knew where I was.