Digital Parenting in the Age of Weiner

By Carolyn Edgar

I think most parents who are reasonably digital and computer-savvy think they already know how to keep  their kids safe online. For years, I fell into that category. However, I know my kids are far more digital and computer-literate than I am, and the Weiner scandal began to make me wonder, what am I not doing to protect my kids from inappropriate online content – and to discourage them from sending inappropriate content to others.

I am not concerned that my 14-year-old daughter will suddenly think it’s ok to tweet or text pictures of her private parts to others because a married Congressman did so. In fact, when I asked her what she thought of the Weiner scandal, she smirked.

“So some gross old guy is going around sending pictures of his whatever to women on Twitter? And is that really his last name? Ew.”

 I am concerned, however, about the fact that this behavior is so pervasive, across all age groups, that it is now normal for a woman to check her Twitter direct messages and see a penis staring back at her.

 I asked the women of the How Lounge  for some thoughts about safe digital parenting. The How Lounge in SoHo offers consumers individual, personalized training and help with using popular Apple products such as the Mac, iPhone and iPad. Leah and Anna, two of the founders of the How Lounge, had some great thoughts about ways to protect your kids while they are using digital media. Those recommendations will be shared in a separate post.

 In addition to providing tips on how to keep digital media safe for your kids, Leah and Anna offered some age-old, timeless advice.

#1 Talk to your kids. Tell them about what’s going on in the world – not to scare them, but to make them aware. They will be curious and find on their own some of the stuff you have tried to protect them from, but if you establish an open line of communication with your child, perhaps they’ll tell you when they come across something disturbing and you can talk about it.

 #2 Limit their time on their devices. The less time your child spends on a computer, iPhone, iPad, etc., the less time he or she has to find material and information you’d rather them not see.

 #3 Monitor what they’re doing. You can’t be around your kids 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but kids do alter their online behavior when they know you’re watching. How much monitoring you do is up to you. You can use software that monitors keystrokes, or you can just be certain you have all of their social media site passwords. Don’t know how? Check out the How Lounge for Apple-device related instruction: www.howlounge.com.

Thanks to my conversation with Leah and Anna, I feel a little better about how well I monitor my kids’ use of computers and social media. I am squarely in the “talk to your kids” camp. I am not nearly as net savvy as they are, but I do have the benefit of many more decades of life experience than they do. And “send me a picture” is just the new “you show me yours, I’ll show you mine” done by mobile phone instead of in a school bathroom. I taught my kids not to show theirs and not to ask to see anyone else’s (or look if offered, unsolicited) when they were little. In the wake of the Weiner scandal, it seems I’ll need to keep reminding them of this basic lesson well into their adulthood.

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