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Parenting in the digital age

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

"Yes, I read my son's email..."

Surely I am not the only mother who has heart palpitations when I think of what the media brings into our house. In spite of many varied efforts and perception of myself as a savvy mom (stop laughing!), my kids see things I would prefer they not.

As Alfs has gotten older (Woody, too), I have struggled with how much freedom to give him, digitally speaking. Like everything else, I struggle with finding the balance in respecting what is standard for his generation versus what is just a touch too far.

 

I try to be careful about what television he watches, and so far that hasn't been too much of a problem. He is ready for some PG movies, but not others. If I'm in doubt, I say no, he protests, but usually forgets about it in a few days.

 

When I was growing up, the phone was in the kitchen, with a long cord. Heck, my family was the last in the neighborhood to get touch-tone, so I actually had to dial the phone (the kids have no idea what that really means). As such, there was little or no privacy to speak of. Friends called, my parents answered, I talked to them in front of my parents. End of story. These days with cordless phones and cell phones, you may have a digital record of who called (unless it's manually deleted), but there is less direct oversight. That can be a problem. I insist that Alfs talk to his friends on the phone out in the open when he is on the house phone, and his cell phone is for family communication only under risk of serious penalty and must be shared with his brother on demand. His cell phone is to be in his backpack or downstairs at all times, never in his room.

 

On the Internet, I have some strict controls set up. He thinks it's unfair, and in some ways he's right. I live a good chunk of my day on the Internet for one reason or another, and find lots of neat things. He wants to explore, too. But there's also too much he doesn't understand yet – what kind of pop-ups and links never to click, in any circumstance. The Internet is so vast and expanding every day, it would be easy to get lost out there.

 

Then there's email and texting. Ideas that were from science fiction movies when I was growing up! Aside from the fact that texting is absolutely prohibited (it costs way too much), he knows that I have access to and will read his emails. I think that too much can fly under a parent's radar with these forms of communications and it worries me. It requires being super, super vigilant, and it can be hard to maintain that level of defense. 

 

I sound like I don't trust my son at all. That's not quite true. To borrow a line (that I always hated) from my father, it's the other people I don't trust. His good intentions can be misconstrued easily in these mediums, his innocence exploited.

 

I want Alfs and his siblings to have a good relationship with media and technology, in all its forms. Right now, this means taking it slow. Small step by small step until I am sure that his emotional maturity is level with his technological maturity.

 

Points and Prizes Keyword: TEXTING worth 50 points good through 02/24/08.

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