As a parent, I worry a lot about what my kid is doing in the real world, but now I find I'm having to navigate the reality of him having an "online presence," which makes me shudder even to write. Aside from watching him like a hawk, how can I teach him how to have good web etiquette, and make sure he's safe, especially when it's hard for me to keep up with technology as it is!?
~Needs e-ducationI was browsing Facebook about a month ago, when I noticed the suggestion that I friend my 7-year-old niece. I thought, there's no way that's actually her, especially because the Facebook age limit to join is 14. But it was! She was posing as a 17-year-old, and that alone was creepy enough for me to passive-aggressively report her to Facebook, which didn't do any good, much to my chagrin. But I pressed a button! What more do you want from me?
This is, perhaps, why I shouldn't have kids. Thankfully, I talked to some folks who have, and they had far more useful knowledge to impart than, "Panic! Then mope."
Walk the Walk
Don't want your kid playing Angry Birds at the dinner table? Then don't do it yourself. The same goes for texting or checking your e-mail obsessively. As my friend Julie put it, "Kids do what we do, and not what we say -- so we try to set good examples of being people who prefer face-time to screen-time, but we usually fail. Alas."
Friend your kids on social networks if they're on them. You don't have to go all Sherlock Holmes on them, but keep an eye on their activities. A friend of mine's 9-year-old daughter is on Facebook, and before I could panic about that, my friend told me how she monitors all of her daughter's activities. "She doesn't use her full name or any info, or a real profile pic. She also rarely checks it, and when she does she posts passive aggressive Farmville messages like, If you care anything about animals AT ALL, please give this panther a home!"
Obviously, things like homework and eating should take priority over Doodle Jump, so make rules and set time limitations, which will also help them learn how to prioritize and manage their free time, like the adult version I just wrote about last week.
Be the TeacherYour kids will no doubt encounter bullying, scams, trolls, and all manners of cyber trash that adults do at some point. Talk to them about possible dregs they might run into, and how they can avoid them, or if that's not an option, how to protect themselves from such things in the future. Here's Julie again: "My 12-year-old has told me when other kids have gotten duped by Facebook, so we've had a chance to talk about how that hot girl you've never met before could be a 60-year-old pedophile. He's not allowed to have a Facebook or Twitter account yet [the 12-year-old, not the pedophile], though Gmail Buzz showed up in his inbox one day (hated Google for that), so he uses that and knows how to block people he doesn't know."
Familiarize Yourself with the Technology
Sure, most video games seem innocent enough, until you realize they're scoring points by stealing cars and running over prostitutes. Not only is it a safety precaution, but it's also empowering to learn new mediums and skills, which is why every other Wednesday, I volunteer at a local homeless shelter to teach the folks there not to start their Tweets with the @ sign, otherwise very few people will see it. Do your part, people! Seriously though, don't be afraid of technology. If you're unfamiliar with something, ask your kid(s) to show you how to upload a photo, type an e-mail using more than one finger at a time, or post a YouTube video. Many will be happy to teach you, even if they laugh about how you use semicolons in text messages.
My own mom adds, "Having only one family computer in a public place like the living room of a very small house is a good way to limit children's time on said computer. Plus, we learned the secrets of searching history to see if teenage boys were looking at boobies, which was relatively harmless, but we didn't want to see them on the family screensaver at dinnertime."
The lesson here is this: When looking at porn on the Internet, it's good to have brothers on which you can cast the blame. Just kidding, mom! I didn't even know what boobs were until I was 25.