Motherhood, insanity and everyday life.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Parents Guide to TheirSpace, TheirBook, TheirCell, TheirIM, TheirPod...TheirWorld

One of the biggest challenges of parenting teens and pre-teens today is keeping up with the blitz of technology that engulfs many of our kids. It’s not so much a rising tide of new gadgets as it is a tidal wave of social overload. For those of us over the age of, um...19, it can be scary.

Well, I’m here to try and calm your fears and tell you that I’ve been to the other side, have returned safely and honey, the kids are alright. Yes, I fully acknowledge the inherent dangers in an internet lurking with predators and the ability of today’s kids to completely lose focus when digital information is flying around. But I think like any generation, our kids are simply finding their voice, even if it has no verbs and is completely abbreviated and filled with emoticons.

MySpace is one of the most popular destinations on the internet. In fact, it’s third, trailing only the popular search engines Yahoo and Google. Based on news reports, many parents have the idea that MySpace is a virtual candy store of pedophiles waiting to pounce on our children. Sure, dangers are there, just as they are out in the real world. However, there’s probably more danger in problems such as what fellow blogger Maryanne describes. Kids are not accustomed to the power of passive communication and how innocent comments can easily hurt.

On the positive side, some of the kids’ MySpace pages are, well, adorable. Their MySpace pages are the way that they express themselves to the world, even when, sometimes, the world doesn’t want to listen. For kids that are shy and soft-spoken, they finally have a venue through which they can showcase their personalities. On each MySpace page, they choose blinding backgrounds, hip music and surround it with lists of favorite movies, TV shows, music and long missives about anything they feel like saying. Along with all of this is the ability of kids from other MySpace pages to comment and then become a “friend.” Tom, one of the guys that founded MySpace, is on everyone’s friend’s list (don’t worry, he’s safe and doesn’t leave comments), along with 80-90 of the kids’ BFF (best friends forever). And here’s a typical comment on a MySpace page: “Hey yooooooooooo grrrl?? Wasssssssuuuuuuuuuuuupppppppppppp?!! I luv ur new background!!! It’s so hottttttttttt! Call me 2nite!!!!!!!!!!” Dangerous? Probably not. Waste of time? Definitely.

Facebook is another similar site that is restricted to high school and college kids. You MUST have a school e-mail address in order to register, but most schools absolutely forbid access to this site or MySpace so warn your kids ahead of time to save it for home. Facebook is a little less free-form than MySpace but gives kids an opportunity to check up on old friends and see what they’re up to. If you want to start a virtual conversation with someone, you “poke” them, which is apparently one of the more annoying things to do and can be ignored. Most kids just look at each others’ pages, join a group (there are millions) and surf through this mini-community. My son and his friends have used it to find old grade school and day care friends and perhaps reconnect. There are lots of instances of kids being “stalked” on Facebook because your identity is not hidden, but there are privacy controls that give kids the power to ignore the “stalkers.”

If the internet is the Information Superhighway, AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) is the Express Lane. AIM allows kids to create a screen name and instant message each other, ad nauseam. What’s crazy about AIM is that kids carry on conversations (albeit incomprehensible, abbreviated conversations with lots of exclamation points!!!) with 4, 5 or 6 kids at once. In our household, I quickly learned that AIM had to be turned off while homework was being done on the computer. I almost worry more about AIM than MySpace or Facebook because it is such a powerfully addictive form of communication. I’ve even watched my own children go the computer to instant message their friends instead of calling them to ask a question. This is fine, in the sense that our phone lines are free, but a little unnerving when you are trying to teach your kids to improve their face-to-face communication skills. My advice: try and limit kids’ time on AIM. It’s a time-waster of major proportions. On the plus side, my son in college can easily keep in touch with his friends across the country without having a gigantic long-distance bill.

Cell phones are here to stay, folks. For many of us, they’re security blankets between us and our kids. When our kids are out with friends, we can actually find them before panicking and alerting the police...that is if they answer our call. They’re really a false sense of security and another potential time-waster. Most kids’ cell phones have text messaging capability giving them another opportunity to share useless information at all hours. If your kid has a cell phone with texting, watch your monthly bill very carefully lest it spin wildly out of control. Oh yeah, and teach your kid how to charge his/her cell phone. Murphy’s Law says that their battery will run out when you need to find them the most. One more thing: Teach your kids cell phone etiquette. Limit your calls in public and while driving and don’t talk on your cell phone when you’re with other people.

iPods and iTunes have taken our kids hostage, much like FM radio did to us in the 70s. Our kids love their ‘Pods and especially love that they can go on iTunes and buy the latest hit song for just 99 cents. Not to sound older than the hills, but this is so much like my teen years when we’d head to the music store to buy a 45 rpm record so that we can play it over and over again. I have no problem with iPods and iTunes, unless you’re talking about hearing damage. Without sounding alarmist, we’re going to have a generation of kids with serious hearing loss if they’re not careful about the volume blasting through their little white ear buds.

In short, we shouldn’t be surprised at how technology has taken ahold of our kids. We knew it was coming. Now our choice is to fight it, or simply sit down with them and try to understand it. If you choose the latter, be patient and don’t be quick to criticize or you’ll be shut out of a huge part of their world. Ask your kid to see their MySpace or Facebook page or to show you what Instant Messaging is all about and do talk to them about the dangers lurking out there in the virtual world. You might be surprised and enlightened in many ways and open up a healthy line of communication between you and your child.


At 3:43 PM , Blogger Becky said...

I don't have kids of my own, but you take the approach that I would take. It always comes down to talking to your kids and teaching them what's right and wrong. There are bad apples everywhere nowadays, unfortunately.

Came by way of Michele:)

At 6:01 PM , Anonymous Maryanne said...

Hi Karen,
What a great post, you've really covered it all. Even though there are negatives out there, many of these internet vehicles enable our kids to take technology to another level.
Taking our kids off this stuff as a consequence of bad behavior is a good temporary punishment, but to take them off completely doesn't really seem logical when they are using it in such creative ways. I just feel like it's our responsibility to keep up on this technological stuff if we're going to let our kids use it. Besides, it's amazing how much you learn and want to try for yourself. Thanks for stopping by and giving me a mention.


At 9:48 PM , Blogger Carmi said...

There's another impressively and exhaustively detailed entry that could easily make its way into a mainstream newspaper or similar publication.

I'm telling ya, reporters assigned to cover this stuff wouldn't do anywhere near as thorough a job as you've done here.

I know, I sound like a broken record. But I love how you write on topics that are important to parents and families.

At 5:54 AM , Blogger Midori said...

Here from Michele`s. My son is still a baby and I dread to think what kind of technological stuff awaits his generation!! I am a big fan of IM though and you are so right about the addictive quality!

At 9:39 AM , Anonymous rampant bicycle said...

Yay for enlightened parental technology policies! :)

Hello from Michele's, and happy weekend!

At 11:31 AM , Blogger David said...

Death to all technology! ( except mine) hee hee here from michele is a reverse visit cause you missed me ( and I know you did not mean to)

At 1:30 PM , Blogger Paste said...

Great post and so true! Here from Micheles today.

At 3:28 PM , Blogger Just a trumpet player said...

Great post...

Kids around here start using the internet in Kindergarten... Yep : 5 years old kids with e-mail addresses, for school purposes...

Michele sent me ; have a great weekend !

At 7:26 AM , Blogger kenju said...

A very iportant post, Karen. and invaluable to parents. Thank God I don't have to worry about that stuff anymore -= except as it pertains to my grandchildren.

Michele sent me.

At 2:42 PM , Blogger moon said...

AMEN!!!..I am living through all this right now, for the most part it is managable. The one think I keep banging against the wall about is my daughter's cell phone...lost it I refuse to buy her another one....but not only is she punished but so are we because we are unable to track her. It is very frustrating..but she didn't learn her lesson the first time..the second time was last straw...
The parrels of parenthood lol...
Here via Michele's....great post!

At 2:50 PM , Blogger panthergirl said...

It's so funny... in our house, I'm more of a tech-head than my kids! The good part about that is that I'm always one step ahead... ;)

(I've weaned myself off the IMing thing, though. It really became annoying, the way the phone is to me. I love email because it doesn't interrupt someone's life.)

Thanks for stopping by my kooky Cyberia blog. Case in point, I guess!! :D

At 7:20 PM , Blogger David said...

I am NOT addicted to IM.
am not
am not
am not!!!

At 10:43 PM , Blogger margalit said...

I took AIM off our family computer after I found my kids talking on the phone and IMing the same person. I think it's a huge waste of time. Both of my kids do have monitored MySpace pages, and when they are misbehaving, the computer goes bye-bye. I watch them like a hawk and they really don't do anything horrible on it, but my daughter has gotten caught up twice in situations like Maryanne's daughter. It's the age, I think.

They have Ipods and I don't mind them at all. But it does bother me when they use them 24/7 and you have to poke them to get their attention.

Cell phones? I make my kids pay for their own phones. THey use pay as you go phones and buy 1000 minutes at a time.

The rest of the's all fine with me as long as they don't abuse it. And there are limits.

Here from Michele

At 8:22 AM , Blogger Florence said...

Hello Karen, I'm here from Michele's.

great post. I read all of the links you provided too.

I'm trying my hardest to work all the tech stuff out. The I pass it on to all my friends. I'm always surprised though at how little most people are aware of how much things have really changed.

What's a blog? they ask.....

take care

At 9:37 AM , Blogger Jean-Luc Picard said...

I know what you mean, Karen. Technology seems to have left me behind. I've got something on MySpace, but it seems beyond me.

Michele sent me here.

At 8:26 AM , Anonymous chrissie said...

Here from Michele's!

At 9:14 AM , Blogger OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

So very interesting Karen...and of course every generation has had it's version of the Tech Explosion...just not quite so international, you know? But you are so right about the 45rpm record....and when I was frowing up it was the radio and rge telephone...That all seems like ==How could that possibly be...NOW!....but, we were NEVER not listening to the radio---even doing homework---and never never off the telephone.
One wonders what could be next in this tech explosion...! We live in amazing times in many repecs, don't we?

At 1:26 PM , Blogger vanx said...

I always feel a little guilty laying down the law on MySpace and keeping a blog. The single standard is the first casualty of parenthood. Or is going to the movies was the first casualty of parenthood? I forget.


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