By Lisa Barr
Generation Zombie. Yeah, that pretty much sums up how I feel about technology and our kids. I can't hide it -- I hate it. I hate what the cell phone and computers/Facebook, Instagram & Company have done to their social lives, their grades, their interaction as humans, and to Our Family -- but I can't stop it.
YOU can't stop it. So let's deal.
According to educator and reseearcher, Devorah Heitner, Ph.D, even before your child can swipe a touchscreen, your family should establish a culture around technology. Heitner is big on the positives of embracing the digital world that our kids, whom she calls "Digital Natives" inhabit. She tries to teach Non-Believers like me the benefits of getting to know their "neighborhood."
Just to give you the full picture, I interviewed Heitner at length a few nights ago while my middle daughter was chatting with two friends on her laptop, my youngest daughter was on the iPad watching "her shows," and my eldest daughter was Group Chatting about weekend plans. Oh, and my husband was watching Monday night football on the couch -- not to be disturbed. (You get the family portrait).
Heitner was so positive while I threw her every negative zinger -- SnapChat and girls taking off their clothes, Facebook Depression (Kids having to view the party/plans in which THEY were left out) ... Group Bullying ... the Endless Chatting and "Groups" within Facebook ... the time suck ... the mind suck. This woman had an earful. I owe her a bottle of Advil.
I love this quote from one teenager on Heitner's web site. The girl tweets: With Twitter, FB, Instagram, Facetime, Snapchat, calling, texting -- there's no way I'd want a boyfriend. That's way too much communciation for me.
If you can't tell ... I'm worried about this generation. Being a middle-schooler or a high-schooler and Keeping Up with the Jones's kids is a full-time 24/7 job. In fact one teenager confided in me after the recent homecoming dance at her high school: "I have 200 pictures that I have to upload tonight on Facebook. It's exhausting."
All this Internet stuff clearly gives our kids anxiety (God forbid they should miss a second of chat/text/likes/photo ops) ... What do we as parents do to help them?
First, Heitner says: LOOK AT YOURSELVES. Are you texting when they are talking? Are you checking your emails while they are around you? Are you "allowed" to answer YOUR phone during dinner and "blaming" it on work?
Set an example by being "free" from your phone and/or emails.
In other words, if YOU put away your cell phone during important family time -- they will too. You make family time important, and by osmosis, so will they.
Or you may make it a rule and put all devices away in another room during dinner-time.
DON'T WAIT FOR YOUR CHILD TO ENTER MIDDLE SCHOOL before you have "The Talk." Heitner believes that the second your kids start PLAYING with the computer -- teach them to be savvy users. I'm talking pre-schoolers (who are probably more computer literate than you or me). They will have never known a world without computers. So set the rules from the Get-Go ... and by the time they get to Middle School, they will have a good handle on being Computer Responsible.
Here are some of her suggestions -- which I think are really good.
1. Have your kids help YOU set up your own Facebook Account. It will show your connection with their world, and it is really the only way to know what's really going on in theirs.
2. Before they can go on Facebook/Instagram/Pinterest ... have "The Talk". Discuss privacy settings and what is appropriate and not appropriate to post. If you are allowing your Middle-Schooler to go on Facebook -- they do not have the maturity to truly understand ramifications. When we were growing up, we had diaries, and we could write things like: I hate her. She is so mean and uses friends ... and then close the book. Middle Schoolers, many times, do not understand by putting something like that on Facebook (this generation's version of a diary) -- the damage it can cause is non-ending. So in your explanations, give specific examples of bad things that can happen to good kids who post their "feelings" on Facebook.
3. Ask them about their criteria for "friending" and discuss who they should not "friend." Friending is a huge pressure for kids. Know that. Adults, Heitner says, have a totally different "selective" take on who or which friends they want seeing their personal stuff. But kids just want to Up Their Numbers ... Note: most kids have over 1,000 friends (as if ...)
Also, unlike adults, kids are really uncomfortable NOT to accept a Friend Request or to ask a friend to take down (untag) a photo.
4. Adults -- be careful when posting birthday party pictures -- ASK parents about posting their kid's image. Being left out of a party/night-out etc. is hugely painful and visible for a kid. Be prepared to talk your child through this.
And, for the record -- many times photos are not representative of the truth. For example, I asked a group of teenagers -- how was the Homecoming Dance?Response: So so boring. But check out the photos -- the kids appear to be having the time of their lives.
Facebook is not truth -- it's an Alternate Universe.
6. Remember your kids use Facebook as a surrogate phone -- without realizing that so many others are viewing what they are "saying." Most kids “forget how big their audience is and forget there is no anonymity." Facebook and texting allow kids to say things they would NEVER say to someone's face ... and they only realize it, when they are yelled at by a friend, or by their friend's friends -- ALSO via Facebook and ALSO for public consumption.
7. Okay, Parents -- the Big One -- Don't friend THEIR friends. Nothing annoys kids more. My own daughters get angry when I "like" something of theirs ... I'm just throwing this out ... You can wish them Happy Birthday on their Walls -- or Congrats on winning something ... anything that is Parental -- in my book (and most likely theirs) is okay.
Anything that enters their Friend World is THEIRS not yours. Don't be a 'Friend' -- Be a Parent.
But if your teen will friend you, be a good friend --- don't be seen or heard or commenting. Look and listen.
8. Spying? Instead of using covert software, Heitner recommends asking for passwords for emergencies. Then stick to that -- check only in situations in which you have legitimate concerns. Filtering software and spying software is a poor substitute for communication. Kids don't need to be "alone out there" at six or seven or even ten. If you can't supervise their Internet use, then filters may help prevent them from seeing really inappropriate things -- but you also have to have conversations.
“Facebook is an integral part of our teens’ and young adults’ social scene,” Heitner emphasizes. "Get to know it, and other forms of social media -- so if issues arise you can actually help them, and not frustrate them. You can assess risks. You can gauge what they are putting up on their profile, and what they are putting out into the world."
LB: For more information -- feel free to contact Devorah Heitner at firstname.lastname@example.org.