Parenting a Child in a World of Rapid Technological Changes

A long time ago in a house not so far, far away, I didn’t have children yet. Nevertheless I knew what I wouldn’t and wouldn’t allow them to do if I ever did. I would be a firm parent but always maintain a fun-loving atmosphere. My spouse and I would set rules and boundaries that would be agreed upon by all and we would avoid the obvious pitfalls that inevitably consumer Dr. Phil’s rotation of daily wailing families. Intelligence, consistency, and love would govern our family at all times.

Unsurprisingly to any parent in the universe, a flushing sound was heard in the background within seconds of the birth of my first child, and I watched every parenting certainty go swirling down the tubes out of sight never to be seen again. My former pre-parent list of “I would never … if those were my kids” items morphed into my actual parent list of “Questionable Choices Made Today” items. The only truism I now recognize without question is that before I had children, I didn’t have the slightest clue.

Parenting should be defined as the act of trying to make good choices while being faced with uncertain decisions, cloudy possibilities, and a heap of exhaustion. The one hour television shows that taught us how to parent with kindness and consistency didn’t cover the remaining twenty-three hours of the day nor did they detail the thousands of days to come after that.

And then you introduce technology onto the parenting scene. Bleh. These electronic wonders that were designed to make life easier and more entertaining are huge problems. The pre-parent me wouldn’t have seen that. That me put technology-saturated kids in the same category as fat dogs. Show me evidence that proves that your husky husky is opening up the fridge and making a butter and cream sandwich while the humans are sleeping. Perhaps he has a thyroid issue, or maybe he’s just big-boned. If not, he has likely become an adorable sausage with feet because the only resident individuals with thumbs happen to be overfeeding him. We’ve had a under-tall / over-fluffy canine of our own, so don’t start foaming at the mouth.

I saw the same dynamic with regard to kids and tech. A large part of me still agrees with the bulk of that assessment today. Very few children buy their own devices, and I have yet to meet a fifth grader who could give me cogent details regarding reasons that led them to a 24 month contract with their current internet service provider. Parents and caregivers almost exclusively hold the keys to the internet and cell phone kingdom, but much like everything else, it’s not that cut and dry.

Schools expect children to have technology in the classrooms for access to research and various apps. Outside of school, many children are also active on social media. My husband and I are social media buzzkills and therefore prohibit our children from having these kinds of accounts at this point in their young lives. We see too many adults behaving like means kids online, so we can’t imagine how far children would be willing to go. With that said, I did set up an Instagram account for my daughter’s photography work, but her contributions are sent to me and I post them. She has zero direct access. It’s not that I don’t trust her. It’s that I ABSOLUTELY DON’T TRUST HER. She’s brilliant and low on the trouble scale, but ultimately, she’s a kid! It is standard in the land of kid-dom to look to the “bonehead and no clue about the consequences” choices category when there are extensive other available alternate selections in the “obviously better and trouble-free” choices category.

As parents, we want to believe that our children would neeeeever make a poor decision like XYZ because we repeatedly taught them not to do anything like that ever ever ever. The problem is that those well-educated children still believe that we are the real boneheads feeding them made up stories and that ultimately we don’t know what we are talking about. So when my husband was scanning the kids’ phones a few days ago and discovered that our daughter did XYZ the other day, it was another monster parental wake up call. Her XYZ du jour happened to be creating a Twitter account without our knowledge. Thankfully she only set it up with her email address. And photo. And full name. And birthday. Aaaand frickin’ home address. Oh yes. She so did.  I’m only surprised that she didn’t come to me to request her social security number for her bio deets.

Do I really believe that she was intentionally trying to put her info out there for anyone in the world to see? Not in the slightest. A friend of hers already had a Twitter account, and our daughter wanted one, too. She had set up the account with her full information because those were the standard blanks (that most internet aware individuals would either skip or flag as private data).

Had we previously spoken with her on numerous occasions about information sharing and the dangers of giving out her personal data? Of course. Had we explained repeatedly that she would need to provide an opener for the can o’ whoop ass that we would be accessing if she were ever to set up an online account without our permission? Naturally. Did my child know better? Yes.

And no.

She clearly knew that she was not allowed to set up any accounts on the computer without our permission. That part made me mad. However she didn’t have the slightest comprehension about what someone else could do with that level of data. And that part terrified me. Hasta la never kid Twitter account.

Admittedly her move was not quite as fab as that of my friend’s young daughter. This precocious internet rockstar decided to set up her dad with a Match.com account without his knowledge. She keyed in his actual personal information and noted that he was looking to date senior citizen gay men. They promptly deleted the account as soon as they were notified about its existence via a signup confirmation email. While neither parent has issues with senior citizen gay men, they aren’t quite ready to go the open relationship route nor are they looking to post their personal information online.

Maybe their daughter simply believed that her dad had worked too hard for too long and was merely trying to find him a short-term sugar daddy with a long-term payout option. Speaking personally, I strongly disagree with the parents’ decision to delete the account. What if Elton John had been online moments later and feeling frisky??? NO ONE SHOULD RISK MISSING THAT CALL. But alas, the account is now gone forever like a candle in the wind.

You can’t make this crap up. While one might be tempted to give them props for initiative, creativity, and true comedic style, neither their daughter nor ours saw the dangers in their actions. What if Elton had called? That girl could be left fatherless now. Or maybe she would have multiple fathers (one of whom would have a far better wardrobe than she could ever imagine – imagine the years of insecurity she would have to survive). And then there’s the whole “extensive personal data that doesn’t belong on the internet” thing.

At least I have another darling who is a few years older and would never make those poor choices. He prefers alternate poor choices including an ongoing penchant for circumventing or outright breaking the app lock I have on his phone (it keeps them from downloading, deleting, or accessing various applications). I don’t know how this mini-hacker does what he does, but I strongly suspect that I purchased an app designed by a five-year old. (I call quality apps such as these crapplications.) So when we discovered that he did his own magical app lock unlock feat yet again, I went on a wide-reaching tech raid at home. Both phones are resting snugly on my nightstand as I type and the power cords to the game systems have gone into hiding.

Image result for fork knife meme

Somehow there are other parents who are even more clueless than I. Thank you for displaying your tech noob-ness online and at Best Buy. Take heart though. It’s been years yet I still can’t get used to the word pnw.

The problem is that banishing the tech quickly goes from general punishment to making your child a social pariah. When we were kids, we did wild and crazy things like play outside and talking to each other about anything at all. This might still be possible with the littles, but it isn’t as common for the bigs and even more unlikely if are not within walking or biking distance of their pals.

On a temporary basis, I’m all good with rule breaking resulting in no game playing. It’s back to the “your dog is a chunk, so put less food in his bowl” approach. It seems obvious, right? But literally within days, they can become extremely isolated from their peers.

Recent studies have shown that ten zillion and three kids play games like Fortnite (or Fork Knife for you nerd-challenged parents whom I adore). When they do this, most play via online interactive teams with their friends who are also playing from their own homes. If children aren’t part of the specific teams, they don’t have that shared experience. If they don’t have the shared experience, they don’t have anything to talk about at school the next day. Or the next day. Or the next. The same goes for lack of access to YouTube or social media. If you have ever attempted having a conversation with a techie kid about anything offline, you may find that it’s short but probably not too sweet. They no longer know how to converse with adults or comfortably connect with their peers at a personal level without an intermediary – technology.

I do recognize that this problem is in no way applicable to every child, but this is a pervasive problem for countless our families. Too many brilliant teenagers struggle with basic writing and are unable to have face to face conversations. Meals are spent with a fork in one hand and a phone in the other. I saw an article detailing the extreme loneliness the younger generations are currently experiencing. No surprise there. Even when they are together, they might as well be in a room by themselves with a phone or remote. Everything circles around moment to moment entertainment and stimulation. Video to video to video and game to game to game and site to site to site. We see it everywhere we go.

How do I get in front of this now? How can I keep my children from falling into the electronic rabbit hole? I could choose to trust my children and recognize that they are inherently good people with caring involved parents. Yes they will make mistakes, but ultimately, they will learn from those errors in judgement in the long run.

ERRRRR – Wrong! They are too young, too naive, and way too accessible.

Well I guess could banish the phones forever, turn the game console power cords into wreaths that I could then be sold on Etsy, and smash the laptops thus firmly committing the family to smoke signals and paper. That feels closer to right but still no dice.

The honest truth is that I don’t have a solid answer. The approach that feels like the best option for our family in this moment is to learn from other parents who have been there done that and research alternate security apps. We are also setting heavier restrictions in the device security options, tossing the crapplications, paying for a service through our cell provider that will send us detailed phone and web activity, and setting router limits that will throttle their internet and game time whenever we become too distracted or exhausted to notice that it is needed.

We can’t afford to become complacent nor can we ever turn a blind eye to the need to protect our darlings from the very real dangers who are actively trying to find them. If you think I’m being dramatic, take a glance at the lovely emails that were sent straight to your spam folder. Now imagine that they are being sent to directly to your child instead and that your kid decides to read and respond to them. Are you okay with that? Are you comfortable with those people speaking with your children, knowing where they live, and establishing a friendly relationship with them? If you are, not only are we on different pages, but I’m pretty sure that we aren’t even in the same book.

We must continue to educate our children and keep this conversation active with them. They need to hear the words, and their vocal cords could probably use the practice in return. Stay involved, keep your eyes open, and stop calling it Fork Knife (unless I am within earshot because I can always use a good laugh).

Best wishes to you always – Jo

Rapid

Moving the Dream of a Child from Impossible to Unlikely to Reality

 

cardinal

The photos in this post were taken by my daughter who is still in elementary school. She’s a spectacular soul with such talent.

My daughter sees magic in every corner of her world and recreates those details in her countless creations. Drawings, figurines, fairy gardens, and, most recently, photographs. She sits for hours as she takes pictures of animals, interesting interactions, scenery, and anything else that she deems to be beautiful or unique. Unfortunately she gives a rather wide berth to her perception of these terms, so we are literally left with hundreds or thousands (yes – thousands) of files to review at the end of her daily shoots. As a bonus she firmly believes that almost all of those pictures are portfolio quality images.

They are not, and, sadly for her, I am significantly less reticent about deleting tons of them. I am attempting to teach her to be more discerning about what is and isn’t true quality work, but I am also a very busy mom / wife / employee who has other crapola on her plate. Consequently my daughter has managed to significantly outpace my file cleanup efforts. My sincere apologies go out in advance to each of you as she will be using up all of the internet shortly if this pace continues.

2018-05-02 hummingbird1.jpgNevertheless she has managed to capture some beautiful images. Although she is still so young, her raw talent reveals itself with every new creation. She just has that something that can’t be taught or learned. It’s woven into her soul.

But I have a something, too. It’s called being her mother, and I worry. I’ve yet to meet an artist who said to me, “I got into art because I knew that it would be an easy way to pay the bills.” I don’t need my kids to become millionaires. (Now I’m not going to lie to you. It wouldn’t suck to have a millionaire kid, but that’s not in my wheelhouse of “mom to kid teaching skills” just yet.) My goal is for my children to live in a way that will keep them generally happy and financially sound.

So I am trying once more to teach my girl how to safely leverage off of the world of technology. I posted a couple of her new photos to her blog and am looking forward to seeing a collaborative blogging effort with another brilliant young friend of hers. My dream is for our children to be able to shine by becoming the people they clearly were meant to be and executing the talents that are inherently their own. Maybe blogging will help open doors for her at an earlier point in the process.

2018-05-02 hummingbird2I want to believe that her path will forever remain clear and that she will always find her way. I want to trust without question that her unusual and beautiful perceptions and creations will invite endless wonderful opportunities into her life. I pray that these are her realities and that my involvement is more of a kindness than a necessity. But just in case, it never hurts to get a head start, and there’s no sense in wasting good internet while it’s still around.  😉

***Photo credits and tons of love go to dragondaydream.com.  Never stop making the world more beautiful my talented darling. You belong among the wildflowers, but I’m so very thankful that you are here with me instead. I love you to the moon and back bunny rabbit.

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Unlikely

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