The parent who grew up in the analog age needs to understand what their kids do/see online…

July 19, 2009

Yes, sir, that is one hell of a long title; but, it is a really important one to take in and digest.  Especially if you have a kid over the age of five; especially if that kid is online; and, really-really ESPECIALLY if you are an adult over the age of 40 who still lives an analog life (bless you, seriously, bless you!  I miss my analog life.  People who still live them are kinda lucky.)

This post is inspired by my wonderful Auntie and her daughter — who at the age of fifteen, aside from making me feel fucking old (I was a babe of 21 when she was born,) pretty much lives her entire life online.  Just like 99.9999% of teenagers do.  Whereas my Aunt – who is the coolest person I know who was born in the 1950s – up until a couple of years ago (when A hit 13 and my Mom and I sat her down to tell her what was what with teenagers and the Internet) didn’t do much online other than email.

Teaching online social responsiblity and Internet ettiquette to your kid is just as important as teaching them to look both ways before they cross the street, not to touch the hot stove and not to go with strangers offering candy.  It seems kind of… redundant… I suppose… to say that, as – to me, at least – this concept would seem like a common sense one.  But, having spent a year in the trenches protecting kids from online mal-sources (fancy way of saying “asshole adults with bad intentions”) and trying to teach them to do as I say, not as I do in respect to behaving well online – I am still just stunned, floored, gabsmocked at how many parents give their wee ones free reign over their home PC, allow them to use the good ole’ CC to sign up for anything their little hearts desire online and then DOESN’T MONITOR WHAT LITTLE DARLING IS DOING ONLINE.

This is serious.  You see more and more articles about kids who were targetted by some bad, evil person online every year.  Fuck, the entire concept of the NBC show To Catch a Preditor is dependant upon there being gross, pervy old guys CONSTANTLY trying to hook up with teenage girls via online chatrooms and email.  Parents: just like you need to have a frim grasp of what your kid does when you’re not around (at school, with friends) – you ABSOLUTELY need to have the same grasp on what they are doing online.  At all times.

As a former professional in the “Internet community managment and customer service” field here are the things I think are essential for parents to do in regards to monitoring and structuring their child’s online activities:

  • Install parental controls on all the computers in your house. Net Nanny is amongst the best; McAffee has good (expensive) software for this purpose, too.  Yes, it seems a bit like spying; but, here is the thing: Kids and teenagers don’t have to look to find trouble online, trouble will find them.  What you can do with this software is minimize the risk for your kid online.  Talk to them about what the software does, what you’ve blocked them from and why.  Let them know that you will be checking in on what they’re doing online — not because you don’t trust THEM — but, because you don’t trust everyone else.  Be clear and firm that if they want to use the computer to go online that this is a necessity and there is no negotiation.  Let them know it is for their own safety.
  • Take time to review what your kid is doing online; and, to (more importantly) understand what the sites they are visiting and applications they are using are about.  While working for Meez, one of the most intelligent things I ever saw a parent do was to contact the customer service department for the site, explain that their child was using Meez and that the parent hadn’t ever heard of the site.  They then asked if, one – they could have their child’s account temporarily frozen and two – if the PARENT could set up an account and check out what goes on on Meez.com before determining if they were going to allow their kid to participate in the forums, virtual world, etc.  I thought this was a really good way to handle a situation like this.  Much like when I was a teenager and wanted to see a movie or read a book that my parents thought might be questionable – they’d check it out first before saying yes or no to my want to see/read it.  In this case the parent was thoughtful enough to want to delve into what the website was about and how people interact on it before saying yay or nay to their kid having an account.
  • Set firm times when your kid can and cannot be online. I was really concerned one night when I got up at midnight my time and logged online to send an email, only to discover that my teenaged cousin – who lives in the Eastern timezone – was on IM… at 3am her time.  Okies, parents – you know this as well as I do – nothing good happens after midnight.  Either online or IRL.  Not for kids/teens, anyhow — this is prime preditor time.  Computers need curfews just like other social activities.
  • Know when to give your kid privacy. The only way you’re going to create an atmosphere of trust where online activities are concerned with your child is to give and take.  Let them have a private email or IM account that you don’t review.  Just also let them know that if they abuse that privledge that it will be take away like a cell phone or car.  Kids need structured independance to be able to develop good sense and grow — knowing where to give it to them is hard — part of you wants to watch over your baby’s shoulder all the time, part of you wants to let them discover the world on their own.  Balance is key here.  A little each way will help your kid know that you’re not being unfair, you’re just being concerned and that you trust them to make good decisions.
  • Know and understand what you should be concerned about; and, what you should let go. Better known as “pick yo’ battles.”  Let’s face it: kids are going to misbehave.  They’re going to swear, talk about sex, talk about doing other things that make you shudder — it’s part of how they assert their own identity and start to break away from their parents.  That’s simple child psychology right there, for you.  As a parent with a child who participates in the online world you need to understand what is a big deal and what isn’t a big deal.  Your kid talking about sex to their peers – not a big deal.  Your kid stealing your credit card and visiting a pay for porn site?  Big deal.  If you let the small stuff go you’ll have a lot more power and influence over preventing dangerous behavior and dealing with it if or when it does happen with your child.
  • Ask your kid about their online life. Get to know what they like to do; who their friends are.  Encouraging open conversation about what they are doing online is going to make them feel like they don’t need to hide their activities from you.  Much like having a “if you call, I will come get you, no matter what time and what you’ve been doing, no questions asked” policy with your teen, having an ongoing dialog about their online presence will allow them to come to you with problems/concerns without feeling like they’re going to get in trouble.  So many websites and teen programs talk about providing “safe, trusted adults” for your kid to interact and come to with problems – which is great – but, in the end, YOU need to be the safest, most trusted adult in your kid’s life.  Period, end of story.
  • And, in the end – remember YOU are the parent THEY are the child. When I was a teen, if I acted like an asshole (online or off) my parents were not afraid what-so-ever to take shit that was important to me away from me to help me see the errors of my way.  Television, radio, car — one time, even books!  If your kid misbehaves online – guess what?  You’re the adult, they’re the kid and that computer is a privledge, not a right — you should yank the f-er right out of the wall and lock it in a closet until your precious darling shapes up.

I hope these suggestions are helpful.  I shudder to think about what our kids see and do on a daily basis that none of us were exposed to — well, perhaps, ever — or, at least until we were of an age that we could understand the context and deal with it from a position of non-threat.  I know that when or if I am ever blessed with children of my own that I will be ruling the computer with an iron fist in a velvet glove… Otherwise they might end up… uh… like me, to be frank, when they grows the hellz up.  That is scare enough to inspire vigalance right there.

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6 Responses to “The parent who grew up in the analog age needs to understand what their kids do/see online…”

  1. Mike Smith Says:

    I wish more parents had a clue about this kind of thing. Its scary to see what kids are doing online.

  2. Narcissus Says:

    I wrote a blog about this several months back:

    http://bellenarcissa.wordpress.com/2008/11/15/the-internet-the-new-babysitter/

    It’s really shocking how naive parents are about the activities of their children online. Since that blog was typed up, I encountered one of the most frustrating things at work one night. A parent sent me a message asking why their child was banned, when I told that parent what their child did, the parent called me a liar who had a vendetta against their child because he/she said that I was uncool. I presented this parent with the evidence (which was pretty bad.) again I was called a liar. I forwarded the letter up the foodchain, as this parent fought against every word we said, her child said he/she did nothing at all and despite all the evidence she was going to believe her child “because that is what parents do, they support their children in their time of need.”

    I used to care what happened to the kids online, I used to care that they were putting themselves into danger, but you know…after doing the work I’ve been doing for almost two years now, I realize that it won’t help, all my caring and efforts to protect kids is wasted. These kids know the danger, they WANT to put themselves in harms way, and their parents are 100% willing to let them sit there, fighting against the only people online who try to protect them.

    • adorkablegrrl Says:

      There are always going to be parents who believe that their kid “couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong” who chose to blame the caretakers (teachers, people who protect their kids online, etc.) for their child’s bad behavior. You can’t let that affect your determination to do your job, N – it’s part in parcel for the work you do.

      Kids *think* they want to be in harm’s way; but, truthfully kids really want someone to say “no, don’t do that.” Being a teenager is a really confusing awful time for everyone involved (including the kid;) and, even if they are little shits to you and seem completely ungrateful and their parents are a-holes, you should still keep on keepin’ on because you’re doing a really valuable, necessary job (and, doing it better than just about anyone else I’ve ever managed, IMHO.)

      The trend these days is for some parents to look to everyone else but themselves to raise their children; and, when the kid fucks up to look at everyone else but themselves to blame. It’s a sad statement on society; but, it is what it is… keep working to protect kids online and keep working to educate their parents about being involved in their online lives.

  3. Turd Ferguson Says:

    Um duh. Thanks Ric Romero!


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