Sunday, March 01, 2015

Parenting In The Digital Age

When I became a mother, it was 1997. The internet was a thing, but it wasn't everywhere. In my house, you still had to pick, internet, or phone. Because the internet meant dialing up through a phone line, and then no one to reach me.

Don't freak out, anyone-who-doesn't-remember-those-days, if I was desperately needed, people could page me.

On a pager.

That I actually had.

Sometimes it feels like it was the Dark Ages.

Mostly I used the internet for chatting on AOL, and for hanging out on my BBS with other geeks and nerds like myself. We actually felt like we were kind of ahead of the curve with computers, as we'd been using them in ways other people weren't for a long time. We were pioneers.

Or something.

Now, all of my kids have access to computers in our house. And devices. My three oldest kids have smart phones, which is like a computer in your pocket with full access to all of the things the world wide web has to offer.

A lot of parents are kind of freaked out about this. The internet opens a window to the big bad world, right in your living room. They feel like their kids are exposed, and at risk.

So, I'm just going to throw this out there and hope it doesn't come across wrong, but, I'm not worried at all. And not just because I'd have to face my own Facebook addiction (which for the record, doesn't exist. So there).

Maybe I should be worried. Maybe I'm naive. But I think, for the most part, that we're not going to keep our kids from the internet. And the most important tool we have as moms and dads, is the thing we've always had: communication.

I don't know how other parents do this, but I talk to mine about everything. My kid is on Facebook? Well, if they're on the young side, I get to know all of their FB friends, and I get to have their password as well. In fact, I get full access to anything they write anywhere. Mostly because I want to check and see that they're being safe. That they're being polite, and that their interactions are appropriate. It's also so I can help them navigate new situations that come up.

Honestly, I haven't needed to use my access very often.

I talk to them about what to do when someone you don't know wants to talk with you. Maybe it's fine. Maybe they were introduced by a friend of a friend. But they should be careful. They shouldn't ever give out personal information that would make them easy to find. People aren't always who they say they are on the internet.

I didn't figure that out until I was almost 30. And it shocked me. I mean, I'd gotten into computers and the on-line world, through local BBS's where anyone you talked to was known by someone you knew. People were who they said they were. Why lie? What would be the point.

But they do, and so my kids have to know that.

We talk about so much already, that most of these little lessons have naturally come up through the course of conversations at some point. And when my kids have had questions, I've answered them as honestly and completely as possible.

They have to have some basic internet common sense, but they should also have all of the things that are great about the internet. Like a sense of community.

Being able to find the people who geek out over the same things you geek out over, is really pretty great. Piper, for example, is into this webcomic thing called Homestuck, and I'm really never going to give it the love it deserves. But she has found her people online, and it makes her so happy. I want her to have that.

For my older teen, at this point there's a lot of trust. Seventeen years of really open communication, and him bringing to me the hard things in his life, has me feeling pretty confident that I can trust him with all kinds of things, including the internet, and the technology he has available to him. He's going to be an adult soon, and I feel like it's time to start slowly cutting the apron strings.

I've done a good job, and he's a good person. I trust us both.

Our children live in a digital age, in which so much of the earth's knowledge has been catalogued and recorded, and is available for human beings to share. It's really incredible when you think about it. And so much of this has changed in my lifetime. Life before a home computer is a story I will tell my unbelieving grandchildren someday. And when I say someday, I mean a long long time from now.


So anyway, for me, I'm not worried about the technology, or the internet. My only goal is to make it something that enhances their experience of the world, instead of replacing it.

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