At the end of my last post I suggested that parents take stock of the digital devices that their children have at their disposal. Now that you know just how “wired” your children are, let’s talk about how they are using technology.
As parents we often think of the use of technology as either going online or going offline. This doesn’t apply to our children who are growing up with technology weaved into every aspect of their lives. Our kids ARE online – constantly wired to the digital world. Nuance? Not really.
Kids are doing the things that kids have always done – they’re just doing them online. Kids have always passed notes, now they’re doing it through text messages from their mobile phones. Instead of buying albums or CDs, they’re downloading music from iTunes. Kids have replaced board games with a gaming console or a handheld gaming device like a Nintendo DS. When we were kids we kept a journal and today’s youth have blogs and websites like Facebook and MySpace. I used to dress up my G.I. Joe and my sister dressed up Barbie. Now kids are dressing up their online characters called avatars. So kids themselves haven’t really changed that much.
Another important similarity to previous generations – kids are just as naive about risks and just as reckless as they have always been. Let’s face it, even the mellowest of us lacked the same sense of self-preservation as kids that the adults in our lives had. Kids have always made poorer choices than responsible adults. Dr. David Walsh, president of the National Institute on Media and the Family puts it this way, “The part of their brain that puts the brakes on things is under major construction”.
While kids haven’t changed that much, technology is changing quickly. This makes it difficult for parents who see the world as either “going online” or “going offline” to keep up with our digital kids. Kids are not just using technology and consuming online content, they are now creating it. Posting pictures online at Photobucket, videos on YouTube, sharing opinions on Facebook. These are all examples of what’s called Web 2.0 – user generated content.
Web 2.0 gives kids more choices – greater opportunity for both good and bad choices. What should they post online? Who should they be interacting with? Let’s look at just some of the online decisions that are too common among kids.
- Sharing passwords with friends
- Posting personal information on chat boards or social networking sites
- Befriending unknown people simply because their online profile reflects similar interests (remember the lessons we all learned about talking to strangers?)
- Embarrassing or harassing other kids (kids used to get relief from a bully when they went home. Not anymore!)
- Talking about sex, sometimes with “Friends” they have never actually met or seen.
Right about now, you might be saying to yourself, “I’ve spoken to my child and they know they shouldn’t do these things. I’m pretty confident my child is making the right choices.” A few cyber safety studies suggest you might be only half correct.
A Cox Communication study conducted in partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and “America’s Most Wanted” Host John Walsh illustrates the point well. 59% of the teens say that posting personal information or photos on public blogs or social networking sites is unsafe. That being said, 62% of the same kids say that they post photos of themselves, 50% share their age, 45% share the school they attend and 41% share the city they live in. And here’s the kicker…a whopping 14% (that’s 1 in 7) post their cell phone number on public blogs or social networking sites!
How about sexting (x-rated rated text messaging)? You might be saying, “I know my kids wouldn’t be involved with this insanity because I’ve talked to my child and she knows sexting is inappropriate!” The most widely quoted study on sexting is from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. According to the study, 1 in 5 teens say they have sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures or video of themselves even though 75% of the offending kids said they knew sexting was “wrong”.
Most parents are talking to their kids about what choices to make online and kids are getting the message. Despite this fact, kids continue to do what kids have always done – they disregard the lessons from parents and make poor choices anyway. Talking to your kids and teaching them right from wrong is critical. Trying to keep an open dialogue with them never goes out of style. But parental oversight is more important than ever.
- Who is your child IMing, texting, emailing?
- What pictures/videos are they’re posting online or sending from their phone?
- Is their social networking profile marked Private or is it visible to literally anyone?
- What websites and chatrooms do they frequent?
- Who are your child’s social networking “Friends”?
This isn’t a question about privacy. This is a question of parental involvement. By definition parental oversight means that there are limits to the amount of privacy kids have. As parents we have an obligation to know the answers to these questions and to stay up-to-date as our children’s activities and sphere of influence evolves. Simply talking to our kids about right and wrong isn’t enough. Kids need oversight, especially in a Web 2.0 world. When we were kids we weren’t always thrilled with our parents’ desire to be involved or informed either. Remember all the questions they asked us when we went out on a Friday night? Remember how dad wanted to meet your friends? For most of us, our parents asked the questions and engaged whether we liked it or not. Technology has changed but kids haven’t and neither should parents.
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Inspired by his own child’s encounter with an online predator, Tim Woda is a passionate advocate for protecting children from today’s scariest digital dangers – predators, sexting and cyberbullying. Co-founder of KidSafe.me, developer of the world’s only Parental Intelligence System which helps parents keep their social and mobile kids safe, he raises awareness of these issues and shares his experience with parents through Internet & Mobile Safety Workshops hosted by schools, churches and other organizations.
Copyright © 2009 Tim Woda