Dell Inc. traveled from Texas to Manhattan and created a pop-up workspace and showroom for their laptops and new Dell Venue tablets. They hosted “She Does it With Dell” and invited Grown and Flown to speak to an audience of parenting bloggers, journalists, and moms. Skai Blue Media managed the event which also featured Stephanie Humphrey and Jamie Krell on the subjects of technology and fashion. Our talk? “Technology, Sex and Sexting,” a parenting primer on kids and social media.
Tonight I’m here to say a few words about parenting and technology…this is what we, at Grown and Flown, refer to as our Sex, Drugs, and Social Media talk.
I am a mom of two kids, a 23-year old recent college graduate son and a 17-year old daughter, a senior in highschool. My Grown and Flown blogging partner, Lisa Heffernan, has two in college and a high school senior, too. Our combined five kids have grown up concurrent with the digital age, and I sprint to try to keep up with what they know and do on social media.
I should be in better shape.
While I have also grappled with the same two big parenting issues my parents did, how to discuss sex and drugs with kids, this third area – social media and technology – created a generation of parenting tech trailblazers. But the truth of the matter is that, as social media platforms constantly evolve, we are all parenting trailblazers when it comes to the subject of technology and our kids.
When we sit down with our adolescent children to have The Talk, what if the only things we tell them on the subject of sex is “use protection?” Or say “just say no” to drugs? Would our brevity pass for good parenting? Likewise, we have to do more and say more to our kids than “be careful” when it comes to social media.
Each serious topic – sex, drugs or social media – obviously requires age-specific discussions and hands-on involvement. Parenting by slogan is just not enough.
Fortunately for us, sex and drugs are topics where we have the experiential edge. But with social media, that is not always the case. Teens are early adopters of technology and energized consumers for apps they use with their friends. And many parents, frankly, are unaware of the social media their kids are using. The growth of smart phones and the privacy they afford their users are the big reasons why.
Pew Research surveyed kids 12-18 in their annual Teens and Technology Life Project and found a generation that is totally wired, with 93% of teens having access to computers and the internet. The study also reported tremendous growth in smartphone ownership to 37% of teens up from just 23% the year before.
The nature of teens’ internet use has transformed dramatically — from stationary connections tied to shared desktops in the home to always-on connections that move with them throughout the day,” said Mary Madden, Senior Researcher for the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project and co-author of the report. “In many ways, teens represent the leading edge of mobile connectivity, and the patterns of their technology use often signal future changes in the adult population
Internet mobility and the privacy of smartphones makes it impossible for parents to know what their kids are accessing on the Internet and what info they are sending. We are kidding ourselves if we believe that monitoring their computer usage is the same as monitoring their internet usage.
And speaking of what they are seeing and sending, while some parents might find it difficult to talk to their kids about sex, we have to talk about sexting. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 20% of teens have sent or posted nude or semi-nude photographs or videos of themselves. Some teens who have engaged in sexting have been threatened or charged with felony child pornography charges. Further, the criminality issues can be severe both for kids engaged in sexting and their parents, perhaps unknowingly in possession of nude images of underage teens on home computers. For the first time in history, parents are being asked to do something that is virtually impossible – we must teach those with the impulses of children to try and use the internet and technology with the judgment of adults.
So how can we successfully parent to help our teenage kids stay out of trouble with social media? Here are a few tips we compiled for Grown and Flown readers to share with their kids.
1.A Lesson from The Social Network
From the movie, The Social Network, “The internet isn’t written in pencil… it’s written in ink,” remember this line and repeat it to yourself every time your fingers touch the keyboard.
2.Invisibility Cloaks Only Exist for Harry Potter
The glass screens of phones, tablets, and computers do not come with Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. What you click on and write, on-line, are never hidden.
3. Your Computer is not CVS
Social media is available 24/7, just like CVS, but it doesn’t mean you need to be on 24/7. Go in, then get out, and go about your other business.
4. Hurt Feeling are Real
Remember when we invited every one of your classmates to your eight-year old birthday party? Hurt feelings from a Facebook post can be more severe than an invitation that never arrived because the hurt is so public on Facebook.
5. Adults Make Mistakes, Too
Avoid the “reply all” option like the plague. Many adults have been humiliated by the slip of an email message sent to an unintended recipient. Same can happen to you.
6. School is Big Brother
Schools are the ultimate Big Brother regarding assigned email addresses. If yours has given you an email addresses, assume they can and will see anything you send via that address.
7. Look Me in the Eye
Look me in the eye, in person, when you have important news to deliver, especially if it is bad news.
8. College, Not Juvenile Detention
Sexting, electronic swapping of lewd videos and photos is the stuff of jail time and public humiliation. I want to see you off to college, not to juvenile detention.
As our kids move into high school, the stakes for good and bad behavior increase. Fortunately, with support from parents and schools, kids gain a greater awareness of the repercussions of poor online choices and they learn to control their riskier impulses. While we can never fall asleep at the parenting switch, as our kids mature with an eye toward college, we can appreciate the fantastic, fully tech-integrated world they inhabit, without being overwhelmingly fearful of it. In many ways, while I was initially their tech trailblazer, they have now become mine.
Photo Credit: Meredith Edlow