"Hello, Mrs. Smith. This is David Skeen. May I please speak with Johnny if he is available?"
"Hello, David. How are you?"
"I'm fine Mrs. Smith. How are you?"
"Fine, thank you. Unfortunately, Johnny is not available to speak right now. He got frustrated and broke the Nintendo again playing Tecmo Bowl. You boys play that game far too much."
"Yes, Mrs. Smith. Please tell Johnny I called."
Editor's Note: We would often play Tecmo Bowl and then go outside and try to re-enact it in the backyard. I felt like the reenactment took more time than the video game, but maybe that was because I often found myself on the bottom of the pile....But I digress: video games have been around, but it was isolated technology and the social networking consisted of the guys on the couch giving pointers to those playing the game. It was nothing like the all-encompassing social nature of technology today.
I remember how cool it was that my brother and I got our own phone line....in high school. I remember marveling at how liberating e-mail felt when I first used it on a regular basis...in college. Do parents sit down with their children and have conversations about the Internet like my mother and I did about how to conduct myself on the phone? Do they even have dual hard lines into homes anymore or have cell phones put that to bed? Is it liberating or status quo to get an email these days?
The point is, we are behind the curve in terms of growing up with the Internet. The common phrase is students are Digital Natives and we are Digital Immigrants. Well it is time the Digital Immigrants start to adapt to the world of the Digital Natives to help them learn the values they'll need to stay safe.
The Internet is like the Wild West of 19th century dime novels: wide-open and virtually lawless. During this period in history families were able to defend themselves on their trek out West by circling the wagons, depending on a shared sense of community, and imparting their family values on their children. We need to take the same approach when navigating the Internet (chat rooms, Gmail, Google Buzz, Facebook). Three simple, practical ideas can help you get started: Talk, Look, and Act.
- To your kids: The number one thing to do is to talk to your kids about what the Internet can hold. Find out where they're going online and who they want to interact with. Don't let them mention their passwords to anybody but you. Make them understand anything that goes up on the Internet, stays on the Internet and furthermore it's never really anonymous. A good phrase I heard today is "if it's not something you would write on the SmartBoard at school, it shouldn't go on the Internet." Finally, do not let them talk to anybody they don't know face-to-face.
- To your kids' friends' parents: Be open to discussing what your kids are saying and doing on the Internet with their friends' parents. It's not always easy to tell the parents of one of your son or daughter's classmates what's been going on under their watch, but if they don't know, they can't address it.
- To the school: If an issue from the chatroom is finding it's way into school, we'd like to be aware of it. Next year, we will be incorporating a Technology class into every grade level. A large part of the curriculum will focus on digital responsibility and ethics based on our Social Contract and Honor Code.
- At the computer screen: Place the family computer in a heavy traffic area. Be sure to check the screen often to see what your child is looking at. It may annoy them, but the best way to keep them off sites you know they shouldn't be on is to let them know you're watching.
- At your child's email, chat rooms, buzz, AIM, facebook, etc: You should have every password and check what they're talking about. It may sound Orwellian to us, but this is a necessary step to protect your children. Take a second during your last nightly e-mail check to scan your son or daughter's discourse from the day. If you find something, TALK.
- Circle the wagons: When the school or community has experts discussing the Internet and our students, call your friends and make a night of it. There are also some great blogs out there on Internet safety and how to protect your children. Check them out. I have some on the right side of my blog: http://www.internetsafety101.org/, Google's Family Safety Site, FBI: Parent Guide to Internet Safety.