We are a digital family. Well not Pat. He uses email and he’ll text me and the kids but that’s about it. Plus he uses Facebook but only to recommend my column to the few non-overlapping friends we have. The rest of us have thoroughly embraced the digital age. The kids have been using computers since way back when they were itty-bitty. I think we got our first computer when Dylan was about 18-months-old. “Reader Rabbit” wasn’t far behind. (“Reader Rabbit” is a series of games that helps children learn basic reading and spelling; they also have math games for older children. The games are also designed to teach keyboard and mouse skills.)
So the kids have been plugged in since jump. We encouraged their progression to internet-based games and activities which we closely monitored. They have never known the world without the Internet. Scary, right? We give them latitude in what they do and the sites the visit; we have our limits and they know them. So far we haven’t had any issues. They both have Facebook and Twitter and at least one of the parentals has to follow/friend them on each online account. No negotiation. Emma also has a Tumblr. Tumblr is a blog site where users share videos, photos, etc. It’s a total free association. Whatever strikes her as important at that moment is tumbled, noted, reblogged or liked. The “One Direction” boys are on there a lot (boy band from Britain); so too is Tom Daley (British diver); the Iconic Boyz (dance group from Jersey) have faded but were very strong for a while; and the random musings of a teenage girl just discovering her voice and you have a priceless glimpse into the psyche of a teenage girl.
Recently, her Tumblings and Tweets have come to cause her some embarrassment as her new school friends are finding her accounts. They’re having a bit of fun teasing her about her ah, obsessions. Obsession doesn’t seem a strong enough word for it but it will have to do since I’m a little uncomfortable calling her a totally deranged fan-girl who needs professional help. She was telling me about it the other morning as we drove to school and, I have to admit, we had a really good laugh about it since she knows she’s a completely crazy-obsessed-fan-girl. I took to the opportunity to discuss with her the implications of her digital life. That what she puts on-line can never get really be called back. You may think you delete it but it lives somewhere. We also talked about being careful about what she says about herself and about being careful about how she carries herself in public and in private; that there are cameras everywhere and people are losing jobs and scholarships and reputations because of something they post or pictures of them posted by others. We also talked about how or what she puts out about others.
Thankfully, she seems to have learned this lesson the easy way via just a little embarrassment and good-natured teasing. Others have not been so lucky.
Talk to your kids about how the internet and texting impacts them but also talk to them about the responsibility they have regarding how they handle other people’s information as well. Do they have an embarrassing photo or text from a peer? Did they catch something or someone in the background of a photograph? A quick chat about how using an embarrassing event or a momentary lapse in judgment to “get” someone says more about their character than it does about the subjects. Teens (and some adults for that matter) aren’t always the best judge of long term implications and it’s important that they understand that.
So, please, take a minute and discuss your teen’s digital life with them. You may just save them the sting of embarrassment or the pain of a lost opportunity. You may also prevent them from damaging someone else’s reputation.
Barbara Mulvey-Welsh is a mother, writer and blogger raising kids and a husband in Plymouth. Check out her blog at "Did I Say That Out Loud?" Use caution when reading around the family, there is some strong language.