Kids are hammering away at their cell phones with their heads down, deep in conversation.
Well, pretty deep.
Okay, not very deep.
In fact, if you take a look at the text conversations kids are having, many of them look like this:
“wu” (what’s up)
“nmjc” (not much, just chillin)
“ tt2t” (too tired to talk)
“me2” (me, too)
c u ltr (see you later)
lol (lots of love)
Controversial? Not really. Serious stuff? Not usually. The same stuff we used to say to each other for hours when we were teens hanging on the telephone and swatting away our parents with a promise to get off in just five more minutes?
There’s been a lot of concern about kids and texting lately, and understandably so. Texting has become much more popular than a phone call - according to Nielsen the average teen texts 2,272 messages a month compared to just 203 calls.
And kids are using Net lingo abbreviations, often so coded it’s hard for a parent to make out exactly what’s being said. (Which is some cases is the point.)
The issue of “sexting” has also made headlines - kids sending photos of themselves nude or partially-nude to others. Or texting provocative messages to each other. While “sexting” isn’t limited to cell phones ( kids are doing it via e-mail and IM, too), this definitely has parents once again panicking about kids and technology.
While using technology obsessively or in a sexual way is concerning for parent, we all need to remember that this type of teen behavior isn’t new. Think back to party lines, three-way calling, heaving breathing pranks and the sexually oriented graffiti you may have experienced (or participated in?) as a teen. Remember writing notes in code, so your parents wouldn’t see them? Or even speaking in code on the phone just in case your parents were listening in on the other line?
Are there things parents need to be concerned with? Yes. But, while parents need to be aware of the associate pitfalls of kids texting on their cell phones, they also need to keep things in perspective. Like they have since the beginning of time, teens need supervision, guidance and lots and lots and lots of conversations.
Talking to kids about appropriate behavior, the impact of one bad decision, and the importance of modesty and privacy is important. These are almost the same conversations our own parents had with us. Or didn't. Or maybe should have.
Meanwhile, remember that most teen texting is of the benign, borderline-boring converational type.
“How are you?”
“What are you doing?”
“What is your brother doing?”
“What are you doing this weekend?”
Controversial? Not usually.
And on a side note, not that off topic. I have just stumbled upon a great site. Melissa Gane is a medical student that creates these amazing health guides. Her blog is named Symptomsacademy.com. I am following this blog all the time because I get a lot of information there that helps me prevent health issues. You would not believe how many of the diseases can be prevented by following a correct lifestyle. If your kid has urticaria then you will find the solution there.
It’s not nice to make fun of others. How many times have you told your kids that?
Well keep telling them. And, take advantage of headline news that drives home your point. Like this report from New York - according to the New York Post, a group of cyber-bullies are facing a 3 million dollar lawsuit for bullying remarks toward a fellow student on Facebook. Not so funny, is it?
Cyberbullying is serious and news stories all over the country are drawing attention to the problem. If you haven’t seen a recent cyberbullying incident make headlines in your community or on television, you can refer to the case of Megan Meier, the teen who took her own life in response to bullying online. While the bullying took place almost three years ago, this case has become one of the most notable examples of how online bullying can turn tragic.
Talking to kids about these news stories is a great way to drive home the message point that cyberbullying is serious and plug your kids into real life examples, instead of getting your own messages tuned out. Aren’t sure where to start? Read more about the Megan Meier case and follow these tips when starting conversations about cyberbullying with your kids.
Prepare yourself for a discussion.
To fully understand the details of the case, visit The New York Times online, which offers a collection of articles that follow the story from Megan’s suicide more than two years ago.
Find more tips.
Talk to kids about how they can follow these tips offered by ConnectSafely.org to help stop cyberbullying.
Download a free booklet.
Nancy Willard, author of Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens, offers a free booklet specifically aimed at teens. Click here.
Take threats seriously.
Victims of bullying can feel desperate and alone. Pass along the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number to anyone you feel might be in danger. 1-800-273-TALK. To visit the Web site, click here.
I’ve noticed an interesting trend on Facebook lately. It seems as though suddenly everyone I ever went to school with - from middle school to college - has found Facebook. And me.
For a while, it was just me and my work buddies (journalists love social networking) and a load of teenagers.
Little by little, the grown ups have infiltrated. And I’ll admit I’m partly to blame. I’ve been encouraging parents to get a Facebook for years - it’s a great way to connect with friends, colleagues and understand social networking before your kids make the leap from online puppy dogs and penguins, to the “real” net scene of teen angst, YouTube posts and requests for good kharma and secret crushes.
Still, what I’ve noticed is that it’s more than just a little lurking and healthy supervising by grown ups. It’s joining in. Participating. Chatting. Hanging out in kids’ circles. And it’s not a good idea.
It’s as if teens had been hanging at the roller rink for a few years and suddenly, parents show up, strap on the rollerblades, buckle the helmet strap under their chin and start chilling with their teen’s pals at the rink.
Parents don’t belong in a roller rink. They belong at the grocery store. Or at home. Or in the parking lot, reading a book in the mini-van. Close enough to check in occasionally or be available by phone, but far away enough that kids can be themselves.
If you’re on Facebook, have friended your teen and are inviting her friends to join your network, you just might need to head back to the parking lot. Sure, we all want that privileged glance into our teen’s lives, and Facebook can be just that. But consideration, respect and a little space is the only way to get it.
So I’ve come up with a few basic rules for parents of teens on Facebook. These are a general suggestions, certainly not rules to follow to the letter. And these tips are not applicable if your teen has a history of risky behavior or emotional health issues - you know your child better than anyone. But, in general terms, trying these tips can help your communication with your teen online - and offline, too.
Let teens come to you. If you established yourself as your child’s friend, there’s a good chance you’ve discovered that you know 50 of her friends. In fact, you changed some of their diapers, made Halloween costumes for a few and even camped out during scouts with a handful. This is exactly why they won’t want to be your friend online. You already know too much.
What ever you do, don’t send your child’s friends a friend request on Facebook. If they want to invite you to be a friend, great. If not, let it go. It’s not your party. Find someone your own age to play Scramble with.
Post comments prudently. Imagine your child sitting around the lunch table telling friends she made the honor roll for the first time. Suddenly, out of no where, you show up and say, “Way to go, honey, I knew you could do it!”
I smell a nerdy Mom moment in the making.
When it comes to posting comments on your child’s public Facebook wall, tread lightly. It might be fine to post a funny video link. Or, send her a piece of flair if she’s trying to fill her virtual cork board. And of course, a wall-to-wall post is no problem. But, in terms of generalized teen anthropology, the less obvious the parent, the better. Keep your eyes on the road, and don’t comment on the conversation in the back of the minivan lest they walk next time.
Don’t make comments about everything you see. And believe me, you’ll see a lot. Bad language. Suggestive photo poses. Links to crude humor. It can be hard to keep your mouth shut. But try.
Remember, that kids are also talking this way on the bus, acting this way in school hallways, too, like kids have done for centuries as they explore adolescence.
If the bad language and links are coming from your child, by all means call them out on it. But do it face to face and in private, never post a reprimand on their Facebook. Remind them that what they post can bite them in hinder if they aren’t careful. Maybe years from now. Maybe next Tuesday.
But be cautious about commenting on the rude, yet benign transgressions of of your child’s friends. Your teen knows what you approve of and what you don’t and many will be fiercely defensive of their friends. Unless you really feel someone is in danger, bullying others or crossing a moral or legal line, there is no need continually to point out her friend’s bad language choices. She already knows.
Watch what you post on your page, too. “Mom just changed her profile picture.” “Mom is tucking her cute kids into bed.” “Mom is wondering why teenagers are so difficult.” “Mom is getting ready for a romantic night with Dad.” “Mom just joined ‘Friends of Barry Manilow’ ”.
That’s exactly what your teen will think of your status, which will appear with your profile picture on her news feed every time you change it.
Consider the consequences of your own Facebook posts as it relates to your teen’s page and the mutual friends you share. Avoid embarrassing stories or pictures about your child on your Facebook page. And remember - your teen can read your page, too. So when you reconnect with college buddies who want to rehash the “good-ole-days”, your teen can read the details.
Let them go if they boot you off. At some point, your child may want to “un-friend” you. Don’t take it personally. You’ve seen the conversation, the comments and her general behavior online. If she’s acted responsibly and you’re comfortable with her behavior, respect her request.
Kicking you out of her social circle is akin to asking you to drop her off at the corner so she can walk into the mall by herself. Unless she has been doing questionable things online, posting inappropriate comments or has a history of risky behavior, let her go hang with her friends. And you go hang with yours.
New territory can be nerve wracking, especially when teens are involved, and when it comes to social networking it seems as if the rules and dynamics change weekly. But applying basic parental intuition from the brick and mortar world to online hangouts is important. You wouldn’t invite your child to your college reunion. And you don’t want to hang at the bowling alley with her and her teen friends. Keeping your social circles separate online makes sense.
As more and more adults permeate what used to be a teen hive, the bees are going to buzz out of town. Understand what kids are doing online, get a glimpse at their pages and most importantly, have an continuing conversation about safety, good choices, responsibility and consequences.
Just give them a little space, before you chase them away.
It's a new year, and having used this great resource as my training wheels, I'm on to bigger things. Please visit my new website at www.pluggedinparent.com for the most up to date info on parenting, kids and technology...and to read my new blog too!
According to Time Magazine this week, the person of the year is...You. And it's all thanks to technology and the Information Age. Regular folks, like me and you, are changing, innovating and creating a new world with the power of tech. With this in mind, my New Year's goal is slightly different than the usual lose-ten-pounds-get-in-shape-join-a-gym resolution I make annually. Instead, I'm going to work on toning, shaping and adding more muscle to...my blog.
Apparently it's working for other folks - families are using blogs to keep in touch, kids are using blogs to fine tune their communication skills and entrepreneurs are using blogs to make big bucks. Keeping in touch, communication, big bucks? These are all things I, too, can benefit from.
So join me, won't you? Pay more attention to your blog. Stretch your blog. Push your blog. Go the distance with your blog. This year, endeavor to reach your ultimate blogging potential. And then, enjoy the benefits.
Okay, she’s technically not a baby. And it’s technically not her first cell phone. Still, somehow it felt monumental.
We had tried a kiddie mobile phone first a few years back and it worked well. The first day she used it, she called me four times - once to tell me that the parent supervisor at the pool party she was attending just left for the pub. I was sold immediately on power of the mobile kid connection.
It wasn’t long, however, before my middleschooler was asking for a real phone. Really?, I asked. I suggested she save her real money if she wanted to make a real investment like that. So she did.
It didn’t take her long, either. A babysitting gig and a few allowance weeks later, she plopped down her cash on her first cell phone: a Virgin Mobile Oystr. It met all her requirements: cheap ($29.99), cool (sleek, white outside with the red Virgin logo) and, well…cool.
It met my criteria too. I agreed to pay for minutes, as long as they were for business only (i.e. to call me or work out after school plans, not chawing about the latest crush for hours), and the Oystr was cheap (.18 cents a minute, with a $20 minimum purchase every 3 months), non-committal (no contract, just prepay as you go) and cool (if she lost the phone, I estimated she’d be out $29.99, not much more.)
What I underestimated, however, was the moment. As she played with her phone wall paper, typed numbers into her phone book and chose her ringtone, I realized the threshold we were crossing. Not unlike the private phone in our bedrooms we parents may have finagled as a kids, this phone was a right of passage for her generation. She would remember the color of the phone, what she was wearing when she bought it, what she was thinking as the security buzzer went off on our way out the store door and exactly who she called to share her mobile number on this special landmark day.
And so would I. She’s definitely not a baby anymore. At least, not technically.
Three year olds online? You bet. The Internet truly has something for everyone, and kids as young as three years old are finding games, coloring pages and music online.
More than half of the homes in the U.S. that have high speed Internet access with an “always on” connection, which means that kids can get online with just a click of the mouse. But bad news can be just a link away, and kids can connect to material that is inappropriate, obscene and down right disturbing in less than one second.
Practicing Internet safety and teaching kids good surfing habits at an early age is the best way to lay a solid foundation for safety as they grow. Keep all the kids in your family safe by following these tips for making your family’s online experiences good ones:
1) Place the computer in plain sight. Bedrooms and basements are big no-no’s when it comes to finding the right spot for your family Internet connection.
2) Use a parental control. Young children can misspell words and accidently stumble upon something they don’t want to see. Software can block, filter, even record online activity.
3) Block specific websites. Set boundaries for sites that may not match your definition of family friendly.
4) Go with your child. Spend time surfing together exploring some age appropriate sites and watch your child play. This will give you a good read on their ability to navigate the mouse, read directions and handle frustration.
5) Make a family only policy. It’s tough enough to be responsible for your own child online, let alone someone else’s. When friends come for a play date, turn the computer off and go outside, pull out a board game or play dress up..
6) Don’t allow surfing when a parent is gone. This simple rule can help head off the temptation for kids to press the boundaries or family rules when Mom and Dad are out. Let babysitters, caregivers and grandparents know that the computer stays off when parents are out of the house.
7) Set online time limits. A time limit not only helps kids balance their activities, but allows the whole family to take turns. Use a kitchen timer or travel alarm clock to mark the time online.
8) Talk to other parents. It takes a village to raise a child, and some of your best defenses can come from joining forces with other parents. Broaden your experience and knowledge by sharing what you’ve learned and listening to fellow parents.
9) Use review sites. Organizations like Commonsensemedia.com reviews and rates websites and video games and can be a great resource for finding age appropriate game and website suggestions.
10) Dialogue with your kids. As new websites are created kids are the first to hear about them. Even if you’ve layed down ground rules, continue and ongoing discussion with your kids about online activities, ask about e-mail, new websites, and the buddies on their IM list.
11) Create a rule about downloads. Ask first, it’s as simple as that. Remind young kids that if they can’t read something, they need to call for Mom or Dad before hitting the yes button.
12) Choose a kid-friendly search engine. If you child is interested in surfing for information on dragons or roller blades, consider using a search engine specifically designed to screen out the bad stuff.
14) Check surfing history. A quick punk of the Ctrl and H buttons, and you can see where your kids have surfed and if they’ve accidentally found an inappropriate site. Check history regularly to monitor online activity.
15) Require clean hands. That’s right – the keyboard is a breeding ground for germs! Post a reminder right on the keyboard and keep anti-bacterial wipes nearby to minimize germs.
16) Stick to sites by trusted hosts. PBS. Discovery Kids. Disney. Visiting sites sponsored by familiar organizations you trust is a great way to get started online.
17) Post family rules nearby. Write ‘em down and stick ‘em up for all to see. Visual reminders will help younger kids remember the rules.
18) Don’t panic. If something inappropriate does manage to break through your defenses, an over reaction can scare kids and discourage them reporting future incidents. Instead, use it as a teaching opportunity to back up the need for family rules and boundaries. Encourage kids to let you know if it happens again and remind them not to be afraid to tell you.
19) Update your software. New viruses and spyware are created every day, so make sure to regularly update your anti-virus, firewall and anti-spyware programs.
20) Set a good example. Don’t spend hours surfing or plugged into an online chat session. Limiting your own time online will make you a role model for you kids.
Parents do it. Kids do it. Even grandparents do it. It’s e-mail, and it has changed the world, expanding our communities offering the opportunities to connect with family across the street, the country – even across the world.
E-mail is casual – spelling and grammar take the back seat to content and speed, especially when it’s from the kids. But, despite its handy nature, there are certain rules that should be followed to protect the security and privacy of your family and those you are e-mailing.
It’s up to us, parents, to teach our kids good net habits, so start by getting your kids to practice these basics.
Delete other e-mails listed. If an e-mail has been forwarded, make sure to delete any other e-mail addresses listed in those forwards. If you’re sending an e-mail to a group of folks who don’t know each other, use your blind copy function to list the e-mails in order to protect your recipient’s privacy.
Weigh the worth. E-mails that contain promises of good luck, fun animation or even jokes might motivate some folks, but to most busy families, they are annoyances and attachments may contain harmful viruses or spyware. Before passing along an e-mail, make sure it will be of value to the recipient and comes from a safe, reliable source.
Check it out before passing it on. Families may be especially tempted to pass along the mass e-mails they receive about a lost child or information about medical warnings. Before you do, make sure to check out the validity of the claims in the message. Snopes.com is a good place to validate facts or bust urban myths. www.snopes.com
Describe your attachment. With all those viruses floating around, folks can get leery about opening attached documents. Cut and paste documents or photos you want to include below your e-mail note. If you must send an attachment, make sure to acknowledge the attachment in your e-mail and describe the content. And teach kids never to open an attachment without your permission.
Pick up the phone or write a note. Kids still need to practice the classics – like making a phone call and writing a letter. A phone call connects your voice with your words and shows that you’re making the time and effort to communicate, as does a hand written note. Make sure kids balance their e-communication with the personal touch of an occasional phone call or written postcard.
Sure, you can make a call to the pediatrician from your mobile phone. But your cell phone can also help you manage your family’s schedule, save time and keep your to-do lists organized. See how your cell phone can be a parent’s best back-to-school gadget this fall by rediscovering these handy features included on even the most basic of cell phones.
Use the calendar!
Use the scheduler on your cell phone as your family calendar. With a little practice texting, you can plug in the play practices, piano lessons and playdates. Coordinate with the family calendar, then avoid toting a giant planner around – just use the phone!
Discover the digital memo pad.
With a little practice using the keypad, you can record a sudden inspiration (drop off Jr.’s backpack) on the memo pad. Need groceries? School supplies? Some ibuprofen? Instead of scribbling your list on the back of the electric bill, make a digital list of goods before you head out for the day – you’ll be able to reference it from the phone at a touch of the button.
Set off the alarm.
Trying to keep track of time? Whether you’re setting a limit on TV time or giving kids some extra playtime on the playground, setting the alarm can help you keep track of time and on schedule.
Do the math.
Don’t forget about the handy calculator built into most cell phones. These can help you figure out how many hotdogs you’ll need for the scout cookout or help your kids do their math homework on the go.
Smile, you’re on my camera phone.
If you have a built in camera, use the feature to take photos on the first day of school and zapping them directly to grammy and gramps.
Look at the clock.
Most phones have an automatic clock and date display at the bottom of the screen – a great asset when you’re one the go – especially for folks who don’t wear a watch.