Not all of your online 'friends' are 'confidants'

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Not all of your online 'friends' are 'confidants'

By ALISON GRISWOLD
alisondgriswold@gmail.com
Published Friday, December 28, 2012   |  662 Words  |  

Did you finally do it this year? After the pleading, the begging, the cajoling and the PowerPoint presentation on why this will improve your child's education, social status and, most importantly, his SAFETY, did you finally purchase a cellphone for your tween, teen or rising first-grader?

If not a phone, perhaps there was a tablet, laptop, iPod touch or other fancy MP3 device that made it under the tree for your family this year?

As kids these days run around with their angry birds, we can marvel at how far technology has come in a mere decade. Consider this: In 2002, the top-selling mobile phone was the Nokia 1100. Its crazy feature was a "speaking alarm clock."

Yes, 10 years ago we were wooed by "speaking alarm clocks" on our phones.

I don't need to tell you what phones and tablets are capable of these days. Frankly, I barely understand it myself. When I started using an iPhone about a year ago, I couldn't turn it off without the help of a teenager (C'mon! There were no BUTTONS! How does that even make sense?).

While it must seem awfully cool to read your textbooks on your Kindle Fire and submit your homework via email, technology poses a lot of challenges to kids these days. The new items bleeping and flashing in your home can provide hours of entertainment and education, but it also opens your kitchen, living room and child's bedroom to what is essentially limitless information and contact with others.

Regulating access to technologies such as texting, social networking, photo streams and whatever else is invented in the five days between the submission and publication of this column can seem impossible for adults. But it is so important that we help kids keep up with the power that is at their fingertips, because the access these devices offer is twofold: Kids not only can watch and read anything, they can share anything as well.

The crazy thing is they might not realize they're doing it. From GPS that gives away precise locations to hackers who can break into any device and steal pictures to post on illicit sites, opportunities to compromise the safety and reputations of youth abound online. While it can be overwhelming, an important part of mentoring youth is teaching -- and regulating -- a healthy use of technology.

Sirach 6:5-6 warns that "a kind mouth multiplies friends, and gracious lips prompt friendly greetings. Let your acquaintances be many, but one in a thousand your confidant."

Easy access to the Internet has turned the whole world into our "confidant" when they should really be staying at the "acquaintance" level. As writer Jon Acuff described on his Twitter feed, "Posting a photo online is like getting a digital tattoo. Once you do it, it can never be removed."

All -- but especially youth still learning how extensive the reach of the Internet is -- should be aware of just how easy it is to acquire a "digital tattoo" that will be undesirable in a few years, or even a few hours.

Fortunately, there are resources for parents (and anyone who needs a crash course in Internet prudence) to use as they help their children make good digital choices. Go to www.commonsensemedia.org or www.cpyu.org for current information that can help adults stay (almost) ahead of the trends.

Feeling overwhelmed? Don't hesitate to confiscate or turn off something that you don't understand. Just give them your Nokia to use until you figure out their new device -- tell them the speaking alarm clock is Siri's great-grandmother. They may scoff at the simplicity, but they'll be in awe of your primitive childhood.