Parenting in the Digital Age: Blocking Kids' Access Online Isn't the Answer
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I am bringing up the concept of having the "e-talk” with your kids…again. Every time I write about this topic, someone comments or says to me, “Can’t you just block or ban social media altogether and make the kids play outside like we did?”
So I want to answer that question.
My first reaction is, “Why would you want to do that?” (Block their access completely, I mean. I’m all for playing outside.)
Despite the hassles, confusion, worry and time it takes to supervise my kids online, I still think they're growing up in an amazing era and, if anything, I envy them for enjoying a childhood where every question can be answered instantly, friends are a few taps away and staying in touch with people you meet anywhere is simple. The Internet is the most incredible learning and social tool ever created. I can’t even imagine how much I would know now if I’d had easy access to this much information all my life. But this tool is simply reality for my kids, and necessary to their future success in college and work. Refusing to let them learn to use it seems a bit like refusing to let them learn science because they might blow something up. Besides, in the same way social networking lets them connect more easily with their friends, it gives me a hundred new places to encounter my kids and see them interact with others. I think all this "supervising" (which I often do by joining them in their networks) brings us closer together.
My second reaction? If I block it, they will find a way to get there anyway without my knowledge. And then they'll be using these tools without my help and guidance. Into the bargain, I will have alienated them by demonstrating how I failed to understand something important about their lives. I get the impulse to block it all, of course. There are lots of social networks, and most are not appropriate for all ages. It causes a lot of arguments. You have to come up with rules. You have to enforce those rules. You start to hanker for simpler times. But our kids didn't ask for this. It just happened.
Spider-Man said it well: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Given how new this technology is and how fast it changes, many parents feel ill-equipped to handle the responsibility, and I understand. I also know it doesn't require technical expertise, only a willingness to jump in and try. (Ask your kids for help!) Still, this is a pervasive feeling. I recently spoke to Microsoft’s chief online safety officer, Jacqueline Beauchere. It’s part of her job to help parents cope with this responsibility. “I was at an event recently,” she told me. “And we had prepared some materials to help parents have the e-talk with their kids. The moms were just snapping the materials up.”
But a comment here and there about "blocking it all," much as it gets a rise out of me, is not a clear measure of what people—and by that, I mean you—think. So I was pleased to learn that Microsoft is fielding a survey to find out “How Old Is Too Young” when it comes to cell phones, social media, computers and the Internet. I’m looking forward to seeing the results. And I hope a lot of you Momster readers take the survey so that you'll be well represented. If you do, you’ll be rewarded at the end with some specific advice on having the e-talk with your kids.
Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.