Right Tool for the Job - A Guest Post from NetterB

Netter graciously shares her thoughts on Internet Responsibility with us today as a part of my new project. Give her a visit sometime at Practically Netter. In the interim we're lucky to have her here today.

Welcome Honey!

How many dangers do our kids face each day? The world is constantly evolving and is pretty scary when you think about it.

For example, something as simple as a paring knife can be used as a weapon or a tool – it all depends. A knife is sharp and has the potential to harm. It depends on the intent on how it is used. It could be used for bad purposes - to deface something or to harm someone. But it also depends on training. As parents, we train our kids in knife skills so they don’t cut themselves.

The same can be said for the internet and social media. It is a powerful tool, but danger lurks everywhere online. Any online interaction with the wrong intent poses a threat to our kids. Training and parental supervision are of the utmost importance.

My kids are digital natives. They are comfortable in this electronic world. They’ve grown up in the midst of it, using computers is second-nature and their cell phones have almost become another appendage.

I, on the other hand, am not a native. I’ll admit it, electronic gadgets and gizmos can be frustrating, confusing and intimidating. But I’d like to think I have become a digital immigrant. Some people may choose not to actively participate in online communities, but I feel as a parent of teenage daughters, it isn’t a choice for me. I am active in various social media communities and keep a close eye on what my girls are up to.

There are some who would say to just not let your children have access to the internet, or limit it through filters. Sort of like not letting them use a paring knife because they might cut themselves. I think this is unreasonable and more of a disservice to the youngsters. It’s more important to teach them the right and wrong than to try to shield them from it completely.

We can’t protect our kids from the dangers they will encounter in the world, online or virtual. We can only try to give them the tools they’ll need to be successful and prepare them for what they might face to help them make good decisions and choices.


Seth Simonds said...

Well said! I think the insular nature of the web can make it easy for us to forget how dangerous some tools can be in the wrong hands. The honor system is all well and good until somebody abuses it.

I remember listening to my parents instruct my younger siblings on the dangers posed by strangers without seeming paranoid or endorsing harmful social walls.

It's a balancing act. I'm glad you've taken the time to share your insights with us. Thank you!

brett said...

Great article, I agree 100% our jobs as parents ultimately is to teach our kids the difference between right and wrong. Withholding internet access doesn't teach them, in my opinion it makes them want to know why they are being restricted. Even kids well seasoned in online activities can be duped by the right person, and as a parent it is our responsibility to keep an eye out and watch over them to keep them safe. Thank you for the great article.

Jeremy Worthington said...

Nice piece! Extremely well written and certainly informative. This information should be provided to both kids and parents alike. It reminds parents that their children need direction, not just friendship - And it reminds children of the potential dangers that exist if the Internet isn't taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

Great thinking!
My daughter's too young just yet to be dealing with most of these issues.
She once Tweeted when I was away from the keyboard and typed, "meep" repeatedly.
Having said that, I'm of the "Trust and verify" vein of thought.
I'll tell her what she can do and monitor her usage with a net nanny tool.

Allison said...

Wow, Netter. You pretty much summed up my mission statement as a mother with this:

"We can’t protect our kids from the dangers they will encounter in the world, online or virtual. We can only try to give them the tools they’ll need to be successful and prepare them for what they might face to help them make good decisions and choices."

There are two extremes: sheltering/babying/overprotecting on the one side and ignoring/neglecting/failing to be involved on the other. You hit the nail on the head, Netter. As parents, it's our job to raise them up with a balance of age/maturity-appropriate sheltering, babying and protecting as well as age/maturity-appropriate freedoms/privileges combined with responsibilities and consequences. Everything in graduated steps, working towards the goal of our children becoming happy, healthy, productive and self-sufficient adults when they fly the coop.

This mother of seven is sending you a cyber high-five! Great article with sound parental wisdom! :)

Chris Brogan said...

My kids are 7 and 3 (almost 4). My daughter (7) doesn't use the Internet very much, though she is currently watching Top Chef via iTunes.

My son (almost 4), uses the HECK out of the Internet. He's supervised, and most of the sites are non-participatory (meaning it's not like some stalker can come find him). He used to have free reign of YouTube, because he was doing a great job of sticking to Thomas videos, but around Halloween, he clicked into something really scary, and we're still mopping up the nightmares. So, that was a bad plan.

My kids will be more digitally savvy than other kids, partly because of my life, and partly because I think it will give them an edge over other kids in the business-making department (sure, I'm thinking about this years from when they'll use it). Let me explain that last part.

I think the thing the new web gives us in spades is collaboration and participation. Without understanding that, I think people use the web like a blunt instrument. As you so excellently put, I think this is a great chance to determine what's a tool and what's a weapon. : )

Thanks for a thought-provoking guest post, milady.

Julayne Hughes said...

I absolutely agree. I can't stand many of today's "helicopter parents" who hover over their children in a misguided attempt to protect them from all risk. These people aren't helping their children prepare for life, they are handicapping them instead. You have absolutely the right approach to it.

Having said that, however, anybody who talks about the risk of cutting themselves on a paring knife can't have had any experience with my mother's paring knives. Talk about dull! :-)

Cheryl Harrison said...

Definitely agree. It's very important that children are taught how to use tools online and off. Being a digital native, I can attest to this from the other side - I was given free reign of these interwebz from about the age of 11, and in retrospect, I used to do some pretty scary stuff - I once gave my home address out online to someone who wanted to be penpals. Granted, she actually turned out to be a 12 year old girl who sent me letters, BUT I was too naiive to even question that, and my mom never watched me or cautioned me, mostly because she didn't understand the technology herself.

Ray said...

As the father of a 5 year old daughter who is eerily internet savvy, I find myself thinking about these potential dangers quite a bit. I say “eerily savvy” because she doesn’t spend much time on the computer at home. Which of course makes me wonder if our children, who ARE digital natives, are already genetically programmed (no computer pun intended) to be internet literate.

Maybe I have seen one too many episodes of “To Catch a Predator”, or maybe it’s just a father’s natural instinct to worry about his daughter. But I do find myself thinking about the potential dangers she will face, both virtual and real, as she grows older. I try not to dwell on these dangers, or try to “protect” my daughter by shielding her away from the internet. I, like many of you, think the best practice is to prepare our children to recognize, and either avoid or find successful solutions to problems.

We need to make sure we give our children the right tools and the proper training to use those tools. Our children also need to know how to keep their tools sharp, because there is nothing more frustrating than trying to cut a juicy tomato with a knife as dull as a letter opener.

Thank you for the post.

Cammie said...

This is awesome Annette! I have already started to worry about stuff like this with my kids and as they get older I know that I will have to adapt to make sure I am doing everything I can to keep them safe!! So different than when we were kids!

Kelleh79 said...

Great post Netter! I don't have children, but at age 30 I am not a digital native either! What is most frightening, in my opinion, is that nothing--and I mean nothing--that you ever do, say, or post on the internet is private, and you can't take it back. One mistake could ruin your reputation, your career, friendships, marriage, you name it.
I think that education is the answer. If children (and adults) are aware of the consequences of posting before thinking, a lot of heartache can be avoided.
Withholding an important networking and information tool is not the answer.
Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

Anonymous said...

Not letting them use the internet would be like not letting them use the phone,back in the day.
However, my 10 year old looked over my shoulder the other day and said 'Who are you talking to mummy ?'
'Oh', says I 'Just someone I met on Twitter.'
Then I felt pretty hypocritical because I am always telling her not to talk to strangers on Stardoll or Club Penguin. The difference is obviously that I am an adult and can make informed decisions about who I talk to , but it makes you wonder if we are guilty of Do as I say not as I do, when it comes to the internet.

Erica said...

Great post! I fully believe that kids are more likely to go more crazy with something they AREN'T allowed to do - and I wish more parents had the same philosophy that you do! Back when I started getting online and chatting with people I didn't know (MTV chat rooms circa 1996, yeah!), my mother didn't know anything about the internet. But instead of preventing me from getting online, she let me do what I wanted - but threatened me WITH MY LIFE if I ever gave out personal information, and stayed as well-informed as she could about what I did online. I know that I wouldn't be as tech-savvy as I am today if she hadn't trusted me back then, and I'm very thankful for that.

Mike Figliuolo said...

You're spot on - if you tell them not to do it at all, you're egging them on to do it in defiance of your order. All you can do is give them the tools to exercise good judgment and tell them you trust them. Then you pull a Reagan and "trust but verify" (translation: read your daughter's Facebook feed). If they're behaving well, praise them. If they partake in stupidity or dangerous actions, point out the error and teach them how to do better in the future. Very well said Netter.

Libby Gierach said...

It's a great post! I agree that you cannot insulate children to the communication vehicles that are being used. It's a parent's responsibility to be engaged and knowledgeable so that they can have the conversations with their children about the internet.

We had a negative experience with the internet from friends playing a 'joke' on my daughter in HS, but we didn't know it was a joke until the police got involved. We didn't laugh about it, either. We didn't stop using the internet, but used it as a real life lesson.

Julayne Hughes said...

Lucy, please don't feel we're guilty of "do as I say not as I do, when it comes to the internet." Or anything else for that matter. There are lots of things that you are allowed to do as an adult that children are not simply because they are not yet equipped to handle the responsibility.

Any time someone tries to tell you you're guilty of "do as I say, not as I do" with your kids, ignore them and be take comfort in the knowledge that you are allowing your children age-appropriate privileges.

Jennifer said...

Well said Annette! I believe it is my responsibility as a parent to give my children the proper tools to make sound decisions. This includes giving them the proper tools to navigate the online world.

drlori71 said...

Great post! My kids are still young 7 & 3 1/2 but I'll be dealing with this issue soon enough. You've made some very good points. Thanks.

Christopher said...

The real disservice would be to too closely monitor your kids online or not allow them on at all. To me it's all about balance. They need freedom, but they also need guidance on the pitfalls to avoid that, hopefully, you're discovering for them. However, they will (and should) inevitably run into issues on their own, and in the long run that may be a very good thing (excluding extreme cases).

Kelly Syferd said...

Awesome post! R hasn't gotten into using the computer yet but E is all about it. He loves all of the techy gadgets, just like his daddy. We have been closely monitoring what he gets into though. He loves watching videos on Youtube.com, mostly on jets, helicopters & animals but it worries me sometimes about what he might just come across.

Daphne said...

100% agree! There is so much information online that it would be a shame to shield them from it just because of parental fears. Not letting kids explore their world only leads to dependence and close-mindedness.
Good parents are good because they are involved in their child's lives AND they know when to let them test their strength and when to protect them. You seem to have found a wonderful balance. Cheers to you!

Angela Siefer said...

I may start bringing you with me when I teach a social networking class. Regardless of who I am teaching I always throw in a quick piece about teaching our kids how to use social media. If parents do not, who will? The schools have chosen a head in the sand approach. Its up to us to teach them so that when we are not around, they will make smart choices. Certainly no kid would ever go behind his/her parents back to do something the parent would not approve of!

Sara Barton said...

Here, here! I think it's way too easy to protect our kids from the unknown to the point where they don't know how to handle themselves. I think the key to teaching kids about the internet is to expose them to it gradually in age-appropriate chunks and teach them what to look out for. Parents need to actively supervise the content their kids are accessing, though, because innocuous searches for Barbie can turn up porn.

Some sites, like Webkinz World, for example, are terrific for teaching kids how to use the web in a safe environment. The site monitors constantly and faithfully blocks content such as numbers and addreses - you can't even type the word for a number (ie: typing "two" instead of "2"). I know because I tried before we ever let my stepdaughter try the site.

Someone commented about teaching kids about how online content can be damaging to your career, marriage, etc. Great point! It's really scary to see the number of college students who don't think of this until I bring it up when I'm giving a lecture about using social media to find a job.

Troy Allen said...

Great post and spot on. Having a 2 1/2 year old and a 4 month old, I know in time the responsibility of education in this medium will completely fall on me as a parent. It's our responsibility to guide, but more importantly empower them with proper knowledge.

Ms. Single Mama said...

I agree...

rather than getting caught up in how they are communicating - I think it is best to focus 90% of our efforts on the old and true - HOW you communicate, WHO you trust and WHY you say what you say.

It's as simple as that.

By the time Benjamin is online I probably won't even know what he's doing. I have to trust that I have raise him well enough to make the right decisions.

Wonderful piece though, thanks for making us all think.

Ms. Single Mama said...

I agree...

rather than getting caught up in how they are communicating - I think it is best to focus 90% of our efforts on the old and true - HOW you communicate, WHO you trust and WHY you say what you say.

It's as simple as that.

By the time Benjamin is online I probably won't even know what he's doing. I have to trust that I have raise him well enough to make the right decisions.

Wonderful piece though, thanks for making us all think.

Squints2.0 said...

This is a great conversation. I agree with Annette's points to provide the tools and the knowledge then monitor. Like Kelly I get nervous when my 8 yr old navigates to youtube or google images. We'll casually ask what keyword is she using to search. A few times we knew the mixed results she would get and just warned her what she would see. She would then ask if there was a better keyword. To Erica's point, if we forbid then that just seems to make children want to do it more.

Computers are like movie or game night. It is part of the family not something to do isolated in another room. This makes it easy to stay involved.

We cannot keep technology from our children and I don't think I would. I'm excited to learn that computer classes are offered in the first grade. Knowledge is truly at their fingertips and I wouldn't stop my child from learning or knowing the opportunities offered in this new world.

Great job Annette and Jim.

Mike Hennessy said...

I have to agree that teaching the kids to use the tools is the ultimate in making sure they use them correctly. One of the things we've do e is put all the computers in one room, where we all spend most of our time. Our kids see what we are doing, and we can see what they are doing if we want to. It shows them that we are all responsible with what we are doing.

I know Emma gets more access at school and probably at friends houses ( or will soon), an I have to trust her to do the right thing when we're not around. It's just another area in which we parents are trying to teach ourselves out of a job.


mbk said...

I think you stated this very well. For me being a non-parent but having several nieces and nephews at different ages I've seen this through them too and at work when I was more in public service.

I think it is like anything else you need to instruct your children but at some point in time they are going to be out in the world and you can't shelter then from everything for ever.

I think one of the biggest keys that I learned from my mom is you have guidelines but it will depend on the child because each child is different and will respond different.

lairhart said...

Great post, Annette. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, less in relation to the dangers of strangers online – since I don’t have kids of my own – but in regards to the online activities of kids who are a bit older. I think I mentioned that a college student friended me on Facebook. This is an intelligent girl who does well in school, holds down a job, etc. And yet she has a number of pictures that could really harm her should they be exposed when she gets out into the "real world." Similarly, I have a friend who teaches yoga at a university. One of her students friended her, and she discovered a similar situation. My friend invited this girl to coffee, and very openly talked to her about why she might want to consider cleaning up her page. The girl’s attitude was rather dismissive, a la, “This is who I am, if they don’t like me, that’s too bad.” (I’m sure, as well, she didn’t appreciate the unsolicited advice from an adult not her parent.)

It appears that sometimes young people can’t envision how their online activity could be detrimental to their future livelihood – and having once been a young person (!), I can recall not always thinking about the consequences of my actions. In the ever-connected, nothing-is-private world, it seems even more important for parents to help their children understand the dangers, and I’m sure that is made more difficult when parents don’t understand the digital world. I think you and Jim are so wise to have educated yourselves in all of the technologies that your girls utilize, as you have a much better understanding of the dangers that are out there. I also know (even though they’re teenagers!) that you’ve raised them to make smart decisions.

Netter said...

Thanks to everyone for sharing their thoughts on this important subject - I appreciate all the great insight. If it takes a village to raise our kids, I'm glad I have all of you in my online community as part of my village!