I know I date myself when I say I remember the “good ‘ol days,” when you needed to talk to someone, you picked up the phone and called. And, if they weren’t home, you had to – gasp – call them back. These days, most everyone is reachable anytime, anywhere. No matter what the age, eyes are on a screen, fingers are on a keypad, and ears are plugged into headphones.
This Christmas, my second grader asked for an iPod touch (which she didn’t get). When we told her we felt she was too young, she proceeded to name off all of the kids in her class who already have pods or pads of some sort, and all of the reasons she needed one.
My older daughters do have iPods, and the oldest, a phone with texting and internet capabilities. I felt I was keeping a decent eye on what types of sites they were visiting and whom they were texting until I recently attended a presentation entitled, “The Dark Side of the Internet,” presented by a police detective who sets up internet stings to catch predators. It was eye opening as well as terrifying. Little did I know about the sites and chat rooms that are meant for children who predators prey upon. I was oblivious to the “meet up sites” that use tracking software on phones to help track and meet others also using the site – and guess who’s using those sites as well? Then I heard the stories about young people who take photos and videos to send to their girlfriend or boyfriend of the moment, that years later end up on websites exploiting them. And that when they are linked to someone on internet gaming, it could be a predator playing as their opponent. Predators use these “kid friendly” sites to meet, gain the trust of, meet up with, and potentially harm, children.
When I first told my daughters about the presentation I was attending, my oldest was furious, stating, “I know you don’t trust me!” To which I calmly replied, “no, I don’t trust everyone else. My number one job as a parent is to keep you safe.” Their father and I decided we needed to sit them down and share some of the information we had learned, as we felt it important that they know why we need to monitor what they are doing and to whom they are communicating.
It’s great when the young generation can maneuver these items, as technology will play a big part in their future, yet what part of childhood is being sacrificed? “Virtual reality” gives kids permission to detach from the family, and often from reality. Consequences don’t seem to cross their minds. People “say” things more easily to each other when it is typed into a text or chat room than if they were speaking face-to-face, although the feelings and potential to hurt others is just as real.
I urge parents to get educated about the sites that target kids, and know what your children and teens are up to. I recently had to contact a mother about texts being sent between her child and my daughter (because I read my teen’s texts), to which she replied, “but she doesn’t have a phone just an iPod,” not knowing that “there’s an app for that!”
Set a time for technology, and a time for family. It’s helpful to keep computers in public family areas, not in bedrooms, and set restrictions on other more “mobile” devices. We’ve set a turn-in rule at our house, where all phones and iPods are dropped on dad’s dresser before turning in for the night. We learned this the hard way after finding our teen texting under the covers after hours!
Most importantly, encourage real family and friend face-time over “facetime.” Unplug and head to the YMCA as a family for some good old-fashioned social networking with the Passport to Play program, open gym, or family pool time. And pre-teen and teen—aged girls will love the fun of “Girls Night Out.” Check your local Y or http://www.ymcacmke.org for program offerings and times.