Generational differences have been on my mind lately because in my job, I deal with it all the time. The classic scenario is a parent or teacher of the Baby Boom or Gen X parent or teacher being frustrated with the Generation-Y kid’s behavior. The kid always text messages in class, or they spend all their time on the computer or X-box instead of doing homework, and the list goes on. Most parents are pretty computer literate now, but I once worked with a family whose kid was a computer genius and the mom didn’t understand that a mouse is used with your hand. She had put it on the floor like a sewing pedal. I’m serious. Now that’s a generation gap. But chances are, if you are reading a blog, you’re pretty tech savvy already.
In fact, this may be you:
Now the reality is, you don’t have to know all the fancy tech talk to relate to your kid, and your kids would actually be horrified if you used it in your daily vernacular. Remember when your mom caught on to a popular phrase and then it was ruined because it was no longer cool now, because your mom was using it? But it’s great if you have some awareness of what your kids are talking about. And there’s the fine line. There is a big difference between knowing about My Space and have the talk about online safety and scouring the Internet for your kid’s My Space to see what s/he is doing and feeling 24-7 (the 21st century equivalent of reading your kid’s diary every day).
Here are some of the top fears parents have told me regarding online use and social networking sites, such as MySpace, Facebook, Youtube and Xanga:
My child will be exposed to cyber bullying I admit, after looking at YouTube and MySpace and all that, I’M SO GLAD THE INTERNET WASN’T AROUND WHEN I WAS IN SCHOOL. I’ve been called into many a meeting in which a fight at school originated with MySpace content. One of my colleagues even had to deal with a teenager who photo-shopped another girl’s face on a pornographic photo (looked totally real, by the way). The other girl found out and got her older cousin to cut the other girl’s shirt in the hallway so it would fall off. *insert curmudgeon voice here* In MY day, we just wrote notes about which girl we didn’t like. It wasn’t as publicly humiliating. My advice is to treat cyber bullying the same way you would any other type of bullying.*
Inappropriate Postings I have Googled people’s names to get contact information and found the most interesting things—their personal blog detailing their *ahem* extracurricular activities, articles they wrote 10 years ago, an online budget from a school detailing how much money they make, and so on. A friend of mine once typed in someone’s name to find a wedding registry and found an article about how this person’s husband-to-be was arrested in another state with all the details. Parents (rightfully so) are worried about the long-term consequences of their children posting personal information for all to read.
The message is to have the conversation about how MySpace is everyone’s space, including future employers and colleges. Inform your child that you will respect their privacy while on the computer, however that their safety is most important and that you will intervene if you feel it is necessary. The good thing about the online issue is it is a great jumping off point for discussing ethics of downloading music, how to evaluate the reliability of online information, strategies for handling online harassment, or getting emails from strangers. It’s the 21st century equivalent of our parents telling us not to give out personal information or take candy from strangers.
What you do not want is to be hovering over your child’s shoulder while they are on the computer or go on and on that the Internet is full of sexual predators and danger. Be inquisitive and knowledgeable, but not intrusive. The message you want to send is that you are open and available for conversation about online safety. Chances are, your kid probably already knows how to hide his/her profile from others who s/he doesn’t know or isn’t in their friend network. But you have presented that you are available if something comes up.
They spend too much time online: This one is a biggie. Without fail, every meeting about lack of homework completion leads to a discussion about how the kid is spending their time online instead. And just what are they doing? Well, a recent survey showed that most online teens are using social networking sites to stay in touch with close and distant friends and to make new friends. It’s the 21st century mall.
To continue the theme of building rapport with your teen about online activity, discuss an “Acceptable use policy” with them. It’s not about laying down the law, it’s about allowing appropriate use unless there is a decline in grades, severe change in emotions, or physical symptoms such as back pain. Remember that computer use can be good too. There are many sites that can be helpful for finishing homework, learning how to do new things, engaging youth in the political process, learning new languages, and friendship building.
Ok, TTYL8R. I’ve spent far too long on this newfangled Internet today.
*I will definitely have a follow-up post on bullying and relational aggression with tips for parents and educators. So you have a nice context, in the meantime, go ahead and rent Mean Girls unless you simply cannot stand to see Lindsey Lohan’s face one more time.
Portions of the content for this blog came from a recent Bay Area Parent magazine article by Jennifer Shaw-Hurd. See, I’m modeling how not to plagiarize.