Imagine if some of your direct messages suddenly were made publicly visible to all? The potential for friendship disaster may be very high, especially in the high drama world of middle and high schoolers.
Click on your name in the upper right hand corner to view your timeline.
Click on past years (one at a time). It will open up a box (see image) listing all the individual posts you made to others. Hover over the upper right hand corner so that a little pencil icon appears. Choose “Hide posts from timeline.”
Repeat this for each year.
No go help your kids do the same on their timelines.
This is a powerful reminder that we need to be scrupulously careful about the things we post online, even in a supposedly private context like a direct message. As soon as we put it in writing and release it into the ether, we lose control.
About five years ago, a parenting magazine for which I do a lot of freelance writing asked for my review on a safety product that had been mailed in to their offices by a PR agency. It was a wrist band that small children could wear around swimming pools, ponds and lakes. Immersion in water would set off a wireless alarm, letting adults know that their immediate attention was required.
Water is dangerous. Parents and supervising adults need constant vigilance. While any tool that seems to offer additional supervision would seem to be a great idea, I’m not convinced. These kinds of products can also lead the adults who should be watching to get lazy, to stop paying constant, close attention. To forgetting to latch the gate. Or turning away for one moment to answer the phone.
Things don’t have judgement like people do. Kids pull bracelets off when adults aren’t looking. Batteries fail. Connections aren’t made.
It’s too easy to let something else do the watching when it should really be us.
I think about this every time someone asks me about Internet surveillance software for their kids and teens. Like the pool monitor, our initial instinct is to say “Yes, great! Let’s watch them in every way possible to keep them safe!”
But it doesn’t usually work out that way in actual practice. If you are using SocialShield or UKnowKids or McGruff to remotely monitor your kids’ activities online, then the temptation is to relax and stop asking them so many questions. Maybe you don’t need to connect their Facebook page to your email account so you can get notifications. Maybe you don’t need to regularly sit down with them and review their news feed, or the text messages on their phones. After all, you now have a fancy dashboard that shows you who they are talking to, what sites they are visiting and what photos they are posting online.
You’re still missing out on something. As with the pool safety monitor, you are missing out on the direct connection to your kid. You are missing out on the shared processing of all this information and communication. The chance to ask them about something they posted in casual conversation, or to remark on the cool gif they made or funny video they posted. And because this direct monitoring puts you in each others’ faces from time to time (with all the eye-rolling, groaning and moaning this may elicit from your kid), they actively self-censor what they do on the Internet.
This is exactly what you want, right? You want them to pause before they click “send” or “post” and think “Will this freak my mother/ father out?” Because if it won’t freak you out, it probably won’t be mistaken for bullying, or sexting or potentially embarrassing material that may prevent them from being elected to office in 25 years. The hope is that eventually they will learn to internalize this filter. Which is when you can pull back and give them a little more incremental freedom.
A recent survey by Cox Communications found 34% of tweens said they lied to parents about what they have been doing online; only 18% of parents knew about this. Why would we want to put even more distance between us by watching them from afar? That’s a rhetorical question actually. I know the answer — because our kids hate it. A 2011 Pew Internet study found that monitoring increased the number of arguments between parents and kids. But while it’s tempting to hide behind monitoring software to avoid the conflict that results from asking your 13-year-old daughter to log into her Facebook account with you, it doesn’t accomplish much.
With all those fancy surveillance tools, it’s just too easy for kids to forget mom and dad are watching, because it doesn’t come up in conversation all the time. It isn’t in their face. They are lulled into forgetting. And since the object isn’t to catch them doing something wrong (or drowning, heaven forbid, to extend the pool metaphor) but to keep them safe, that’s not much good.
So don’t send me an email telling me that the pool safety wristguard saved your nephew’s life or some Internet software stopped a bullying scandal, because I’m happy for you. Really. I’m glad harm has been avoided.
I don’t think these services or objects are inherently evil. But I do think they are the easy way out. They are a job half-done. They make it too easy to keep a constant, honest, eyes-peeled, mind sharp watch on our kids, at least until they are old enough to watch out for themselves, whether they are at the pool or up in their room with an iPad.
It’s exam time in our house. We’ve got two almost-13-year-olds learning, for the first time in their lives, how to manage their time and process all this material for the big final exam. They are learning how to cope with the associated stress, organize their stuff, and get themselves in the right frame of mind.
They’re handling it reasonably well, but it’s been challenging.
Watching them contend with all of the review notes, group study sessions and stomach butterflies have brought back a lot of memories for me as well (one of the perks of middle age is never again having to sit a final exam in a crowded, stuffy gymnasium). I’ve noticed that some things are different. Really different.
For one thing, having their own iPads and wifi means that studying has gone social in entirely new ways. When one of my daughters offered on Facebook to share her detailed review notes in science and history, there were over 100 comments. I watched, amused, at their postings and status updates asking questions, expressing nervousness, offering support. There was a lot of the digital equivalent of giggling, but also a lot of real support and reassurance slipped in around the procrastination and adolescent posturing.
Although I was a little concerned about the impact of having your Facebook page open in one window while you are supposed to be studying in another (I know from personal experience how distracting that can be!), I see the importance for them in connecting to each other when you are stuck at your desk on a gorgeous, sunny June weekend.
One of my daughter’s friends found some music videos about the scientific method, scientific method and the water cycle. I haven’t personally vetted these for content, but on the whole these extras strike me as fun ways to help with recall and learning. There are so many wonderful resources available to them on the Internet, and it so seamless, so obvious to them, that the answer to almost any question can be found through an intelligently phrased Google search.
They can’t even see it for the marvel it is. Or the extreme time suck. Depending on how well you manage it.
As parents and educators, it’s clear there are many, many things we have to worry about online. But it’s also important to stop and see the other stuff too. And the smiling emoticons and “you’ll do greats!” that I saw on their Facebook pages made me smile.
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