kids and the interwebs (g2)

I admit, I’m THAT parent.

My kid figured out the mouse on my computer when they were still in diapers.

By the age of four, we could no longer share one computer and they already had a Facebook and email. I know because I’m the one who set it up for them. A deviantArt account followed shortly after, then a Google+ and YouTube and recently an Ello account. I set them all up and showed them how to use it. Don’t even get me started on the number of game accounts.

All of our passwords are stored in an encryption software that manages it for us. They are not allowed to have an account I do not know about or have access to and they have access to mine as well. I figure its fair since teaching mutual respect, regardless of their age, is valuable. Do you remember not mattering or feeling that your opinions had no value? I do. At least at home, I did not want my kid to feel that way. The schools do enough of that already.

My kid understands that I could review every single scrap of information they have so much as clicked by, maybe that helps, but I’ve only really used it when they were smaller.

Don’t get me wrong its not like everything has been flawless, my kid used to play one particular online game at the age of eight and I was spot-checking their Facebook messages and realized they had friended an older teen that I did not know. They’d even lied about their age (added three years… apparently 11 sounded mature). Now granted, when the teen realized they were chatting with a kid, they very abruptly changed the conversation by instead of asking about my kid, it changed to “um, so you like Candy Crush?”

I was lucky. My kid had friended this person only an hour or so before and the person thought they were talking to someone much older.

The video game where my kid had met this person was uninstalled, the account deleted, the email address was closed and I opened another one (yes, b/c family emailed my kid regularly). Regardless of innocence, the teenager was also blocked. My kid was banned from the computer until they could quote back every single thing I was telling them about how the only thing I would need to know about a person to find them is something as simple as their school’s mascot. I made them read about people who were continuously bullied, some even to suicide, over the stupid shit they would post online. I talked about predators. I talked about things I was hoping I would have a couple years before I would have to talk about, some way advanced of what I wanted to ever discuss with a child. I talked until I saw what I was looking for: comprehension and fear.

When they were allowed computer time, I sat right beside them the entire time. I asked questions about anything they did when I didn’t just so they knew I was still watching. They knew they had betrayed my trust and they had to work to earn it back. Being careful online was something I had been preaching since they could talk. They knew this and yet somehow felt they were invincible against it.

Maybe it was when I told them “try to fight me off” and pinned and pulled them from one end of the house to the other, stopped and said “Now what if the person you talked to online was bigger than me and showed up at your school? Still think you’re tough enough to get away?” Maybe that was the trigger that made my kid get it. Talking wasn’t enough, I remember the buzzing sound of parental lecture-giving, it didn’t ever get through to me then. Showing me was a different thing entirely.

These days my kid is probably the extreme other way. They dodge confrontation and won’t even ask a random stranger to move from in front of a drink dispenser so they can get some. When we are both online with a group of friends I know and trust in real life and we’re all playing something together, my kid will still refuse to speak on the chat program we run to coordinate more efficiently. They desperately want to get into making videos on YouTube, but are terrified of putting even their voice out there. We often discuss how to work within a comfortable boundary of being able to be public and still safe. When they are questioned about themselves these days, they know how to refuse and do not hesitate in doing so.

I know because I still watch. I know in my gut that sense of invincibility won’t be silenced for long when you’re young. I know it will crop its ugly head up again.I just don’t know where. I want my kid to be confident, but also cautious. I also want my kid to not seek out a fight but understand that fighting for yourself is a worthy cause and no one has the right to make you feel otherwise, so don’t let them.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was to never let my child have a laptop. Seems weird, but they can take those to the privacy of their rooms at a moment’s notice and you have no clue what is going on. So my kid has the 210 lbs of computer that resides in the center of the den. We share a desk. I can see the reflections of anything they watch in my own monitor. Honestly, I’m not paying attention much anymore. My kid bugs me to watch 2/3 of it anyway. Right now, my kid’s current secret from me is a mild addiction to romantic (not trashy) anime. They like to have a tougher, nonchalant image and apparently that mushy stuff destroys that, so I pretend not to notice.

It can be daunting when your kid is skilled in a world that you feel very unskilled in managing. Ironically, probably the best defense against that is to have your child show you how stuff works, what’s so cool about it, and what they like about it so much. We as parents sometimes forget to engage. We’ve been switched “on” all damn day when we have been around nothing but adults, but sometimes forget our kids should get some of that too. You might find what they like is interesting to you too.

Now that doesn’t deal with the elements of keeping one safe online but for that I direct you to LifeHacker.com. However, I find their search engine cumbersome and somewhat useless but if you’re just getting started, just search “facebook” and browse the titles. Or if you want something specific go to Google and try “lifehacker, facebook, privacy settings.” The first word will tell Google what site to look at (for real, its awesome), and the rest tells it what to hone in on. Ironically, I was perusing an article today when I snuck away to have a snack for which I will link here.

It’s scary to learn something new. I get it. This is the world we live in and we’re just going to get more technologically capable, we will have to learn the dance to keep us and our kids safe. We have to talk to them, we have to understand they won’t be kids for long and as much as you want them to remain sweet and innocent and safe within our arms, not arming them against the ugliness could get them hurt, or even killed.

Exploring their bodies, their sexuality, their own individuality is all coming hard and fast (doesn’t anyone remember how empowering shameless flirting can be?) and not acknowledging them as individuals with their own mindsets could cause them to pull away… sometimes for good. I already know I was in my thirties before I ever acknowledged my parentals were every right about anything. Get in with them while you still can.

My kid shuts me out, disregards my opinion but in the very same moment, seeks my acceptance. Deep down, I know my words get through, as long as they are brief. As much as I may hate it, sometimes I just have to sit back and let them fall on their ass, sometimes more than once, then ask their permission to help them back up. It’s part of them finding their own footing. It’s tough considering there was a point when we had to do it all and now that the stakes are higher we’re repeatedly told to “butt out,” but we have to just stick by them, beat common sense into them when we can find an opening and try really hard not to fling “I told you so” when we get proven right time and time again.

At least until they turn thirty. Then its on.

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