Thursday, June 12, 2014

Kids and Social Media: I Can Handle This (I think)

I wrote this post for the fine folks at WTOP (a kick-ass radio station in Washington, DC) last week but I thought I'd share it here, too. This is not a regular Mommyland-type post, it's a cross between a "real" blog post and the stream of consciousness bullshit you generally find here. Enjoy! 

A couple of years ago, I read that the crux of the problem with kids and emerging social technology, such as Twitter, is that children routinely use social media before they're properly socialized. That makes sense. A socially-awkward 12-year-old in real life is bound to make mistakes on the Internet, especially without a clear example of what they should be doing. But who sets that example?

I have three young kids who are dying to know about, and engage with, technology. I've tried to keep them off the Internet, but thanks to our excellent public school system and the magic of BlackBoard, they're online doing their homework almost every day.

They collaborate with classmates via Google Docs and ask me how to upload YouTube videos into their PowerPoint slides for social studies. I stare blankly at them, wondering how we went from printing out coloring pages to this. Now I argue with my 8-year-old about playing Minecraft via Xbox Live. Just because the person you're playing with says he's a fourth-grader, doesn't mean he's not actually a random dude from Denmark with candy in his pants.


In the past, kids earned the freedom to make their own mistakes. Of course, in the past, I spent all day roaming around the woods behind my house; my parents were both unaware of my location and totally secure of my well-being. But now, we live in a different world. I hear that refrain from parents constantly. It is a whole new world. I can't turn my 11-year-old loose on the Internet any more than I can drop her off downtown with $1 for pizza and $1 for bus fare (something I totally did back in 1982).

In 2014, I feel the need to be cautious with their safety. Where the Internet is concerned, I monitor -- even if it sometimes feels invasive to me. My parents didn't eavesdrop on my phone calls, when I paced back and forth for hours chattering about boys, twining the cork-screwed twirl of the phone cord between my fingers. Now, kids sit in silence and text. Who are you texting? What are you saying? Did you just take a picture?

I've resigned myself to the fact that I must learn about 8-second Vines and how easy it is to screenshot a Snapchat before it disappears. But I don't really want to. It's overwhelming and outside of my comfort zone and it takes a lot of time. I could go on forever with excuses. But I have to. And you know what? I didn't really want to learn about two-handed breast stroke turns, or Girl Scout travel insurance claim forms, or whether runners on first base can steal second on a strike. But when my kids started doing these things, I had to keep up. If I stand any chance of providing a good example to them, I have to learn about the online and social media world in which they live.

We're the first generation of parents trying to manage and moderate our children's access to, and behavior on, social media. Unlike almost every other area of parenting, I can't ask my grandmother or my mom for advice about this. In fact, our failures and successes will form the bedrock of how the next generation of parents deal with whatever technology throws at us (and our kids).

That's terrifying, right? How we choose to parent around this counts. How we choose to balance the freedom to make mistakes, and the safety of providing our oversight will matter in the future.

(c) Mommyland Blogs 2014

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