Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Moms Online

Moms online.  That's the title of the workshop I'm leading tonight.  I wrote a real soapbox sermon to some of my old friends who have young children a few months ago after the Frontline special Growing Up Online first airedI've given "Facebook workshops" to a couple of groups of moms of young children and tonight I'm going to try to do the same thing with a group of moms of older children.  They are both more fearful and feel a greater sense of urgency about the issues.  I think (although I'm not sure) that their tech skills are not as strong as the other groups I've worked with.

Some issues I see:

The gap between kids and their parents is real, but not limited to technology.  Technology just intensifies it.  The parents consider themselves "web savvy" but what they really mean is that they can find content they want on the internet--travel, stocks, recipes, etc.  They send email.  BUT--they don't socialize online.  They don't realize (or are just beginning to) that they haven't taught their children how to behave online. They don't generate or manage content themselves.  Web 2.0 escapes these parents and they don't even realize it until their kids do something inappropriate--the kid who posts a scantily clad picture of her friend taken at a slumber party.  Nobody ever told them early on that it wasn't acceptable behavior because their parents couldn't imagine it happening until after it already started. 

Another thing that struck me was the sense of entitlement kids have about their online lives and their "right" to privacy.   If you have a secret, you might tell one friend.  If you have a website that 400 of your friends (some of whom you haven't ever met) can visit, it's not personal or private.  It's a club.  A closed club, but a club nonetheless.  I've diigoed (is that a verb now?) some resources I've found that discuss the appropriateness of actually social networking with your child and their friends as opposed to engaging in social networking in order to understand their world better.  In tonight's talk, I'll use these pictures to explain the concept.  Remember the skate rink in the 80's?  Well. . .

Mom just can't be cool at the skate rink.

I am optimistic that young children (the under 10 set) will not only grow up with constant internet (we can't change that), but will also grow up with parents who aren't caught by surprise by what they are doing (this we can change) and who expect them to be open with their families about what they are doing (this can be part of a family's culture from the beginning).  I am strongly encouraging all of my friends with children to participate in social networks.  Because we need to stay on the bus (or hop back on if we dropped off at googling recipe ingredients and emailing baby pictures).  It's going to be hard to get on the bus in 9 or 10 years if we don't. 

Not that this is magic.  We've been telling kids not to drink and drive forever and some still die every year in tragic wrecks.  They assure us as 5th graders that they will never, ever smoke, then sneak cigarettes as teens.  It's the nature of some teens to rebel, sneak around, experiment.  It's the nature of parents to try to keep them safe while they do that.  I'd love to know what people think.
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