This past week, I had the great fun of participating in Social Media Week by sitting on a panel called " The Social Family" to discuss how social media is impacting our families. The panel moderator, Rebecca Brown of Bunch Family did a great job of shaping a robust conversation with the audience, myself and the other panelists; Brad Moon (a.k.a. wiredgeekdad) and Royal Lee (a.k.a. education ninja).
Here are the three questions that I think every parent would have appreciated hearing the answers to:
1. "Mom Mom Mom Mom -- when can I get on Facebook?
Many parents hate and fear Facebook. FB guidelines state you must be 13-years-old to have an account, but younger kids must want to get on this hot social media platform. What is a parent to do? I suggested that the family creates a Facebook page together. This way, nervous parents can learn about Facebook alongside their child in a collaborative way. Keep your family site private and only friend your other family members. Your kids can Facebook with their cousins and you can swap family photos with uncles and aunts. With time, experience, and education, parents will feel more comfortable (and probably fall in love with...) Facebook. As your child ages and you feel they are competent in the etiquette and safety rules of being on FB, they can graduate to their own page that you can moderate.
2. Gaming -- how much is too much? Are they good or bad?
Here is what we decided: Kids love games. Not all games are created equally. Games that seem lame to parents could well have terrific collaborative and problem solving skills embedded into their design and they are actually wonderful educational tools for children. Other innocent looking games that involve cute pets and so on can use casino tactics to lure our children into seeking silly rewards that eventually leads to parents pulling out their pocket books to make online pet food purchases so beloved fluffy won't famish! Some games promote values that you might find abhorrent (consumerism, sexism, violence, etc.). Know the games your children are playing and don't just scrutinize them -- actually play those games with them! This is the new sandbox. The real online predator you have to watch for is corporate advertising. Advertising to children is a $15 billion dollar industry. And advertising works... just saying...
3. Handhelds and mobile apps. How do we keep parental control?
The old parenting rule of keeping the Internet on the family PC in the living room where it can be supervised has gone the way of the dodo bird. The integrated and embedded nature of apps means they are everywhere. I shared my opinion that parents today have to embrace technology. Like it or not! (FYI, I was recently in St. Jacobs, ON, and I saw several old-order Mennonite moms in their traditional dark print dresses, aprons and bonnets -- yup, you guessed it -- talking on cell phones!) Parenting by definition is the job of preparing our children to join the larger culture. Just as we have to teach them good health and eating habits, we must teach them about technology, online etiquette and safety. It's our parenting responsibility now. It's no longer a choice. Confiscation, blocking, unplugging and other parentally-imposed firewalls will not work in the long run. Children's desire for the forbidden will have them craving all that much more. Imposed control tactics also miss the teachable lessons which are actually easier and more enduring when you start with younger children. Parental spyware and locks creates an antagonistic "us against them" mentality between parent and child. Imposed controls promotes cheating, lying and work arounds. After all, if you have already been deemed guilty, you might as well enjoy the crime now! Yes, there are age-appropriate devises that can ensure your six-year-old doesn't accidentally misspell Madonna and end up on a porn site, but lets not avoid the lessons our children really need to learn in the wired world. Life preparation is always better than protection, which leaves children vulnerable.
I hope I have given a fair synopsis, since not all of us agreed on all points at all times!