Life was so simple when I was thirteen. My mother readily admits it—she had the birth control talk with me in the car on the ride home from school. It took all of 5 minutes and that was the end of the story.
Now, as mother to a teen and pre-teen, not only do I have to worry about the typical sex talk, I also have to navigate the topics of cell phone safety, Internet safety, access to stomach-churning pornography, and cyber-bullying.
While the the tragic suicides of Phoebe Prince and Tyler Clementi over the past year have prompted enactment of new statutes on cyber bullying and enforcement of existing privacy laws, protecting our children in the age of the Internet is a parent’s job; it’s going to be an ongoing process requiring constant vigilance as the Cyberworld continues to evolve…or devolve, as it’s seemingly seeking previously unconscionable depths of depravity.
Thankfully, there are resources for parents via schools, community organizations, and of course, the Internet. My son’s high school held a talk on sexting at the beginning of the school year for a crowd of wide-eyed, befuddled parents. The American of Pediatrics (AAP) and HealthyChildren.org offer a number of articles and audio programs on both protecting your children and arming them with safety tools for the Internet age.
HealthEPeople: The LegacEE We Bestow our Children
The one thing missing from the AAP articles and HealthyChidren.org is how we as parents model for children, all behavior, including Internet behavior. The closest the AAP touches on it is “Share a bit about your daily SM use as a way to facilitate daily conversation about your kids’ online habits.” AAP Statement on How to Talk to Kids about Social Media
Our children will find us on Google no matter how “anonymous” we think we are. Children possess enough personal information about their parents, that, armed with a computer and a few minutes they can probably find anything a parent has ever posted on the web, or had posted about them without their knowledge.
To borrow from @hrana (my Twitter friend), “posting on Twitter is as good as slapping it up on a billboard for millions of people to see.” It is not anonymous.
I never cease to be amazed how careless parents are being with their Internet choices. In one social media venue a mother of two children had posted, not only pictures of her children, but pictures of herself in her underwear, on a Twitter page. A self-proclaimed “stay at home dad’” bragged in his posts, about his drinking, and it was easy to follow the trail of breadcrumbs to photos of him intoxicated in a bar. Several parents have been implicated in high-profile cyber-bullying cases. Kid-logic combined with self-talk will say, “If mom/dad does this, it’s fine for me to do it”.
“Contact”, one of my favorite movies, depicts the first transmissions received from earth by denizens of outer space to be the Hitler broadcasts. Upon this discovery the scientists in the room seemed filled, not just with the awe of new perspective, but with shame. Our Internet behavior is going to echo for years, possibly decades, down the road.
The Internet seems to have spawned an unofficial race to the bottom regarding decency and social mores. “People with no talent, save the talent for making a spectacle of themselves, are deemed worthy of our weekly attention.” (Michele Martin)
For our children’s health, we as parents need to be conscious and mindful when we make choices regarding how we use the Internet, “to live deliberately” (H. D. Thoreau).
The one thing that is measurable and finite in our lives is our own lifespan. The Internet seems to behave like the Universe—forever expanding outward. What LegacEE do we want to leave for our children and grandchildren?