I’ve been keeping Dr. Gwen Schurgin-Okeeffe’s (AKA Dr. Gwenn) book close by for several months now. Cybersafe: Protecting and Empowering Kids in the Digital World of Texting, Gaming, and Social Media is chock-full of helpful information and advice, juxtaposing the need to empower as well as protect today’s children in the always-expanding virtual world where they live. I’ve read the entire book, and I highly recommend CyberSafe to a people who are planning school book fairs and searching for a book that addresses technology and parenting. For parents who are seeking a broad overview of digital age parenting, CyberSafe, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, is the current best bet.
This week Dr. Schurgin’s book is juxtaposed in my mind with the December 5, 2010 New York Times article, As Bullies Go Digital, Parents Play Catch-Up. The piece, by reporter Jan Hoffman, focuses on what parents are doing – and not doing – to make the digital world, and especially potential cyber-bullying, less treacherous for their children. My technology colleague, Bruce, sent me what he felt were the most important thoughts in the New York Times article. I’ve posted these quotes below.
Last April in an omnibus review of studies addressing youth, privacy and reputation, a report by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard noted that parents who checked their children’s online communications were seen as “controlling, invasive and ‘clueless.’” Young people, one study noted, had a notion of an online public viewership “that excludes the family.”
Conversely, studies show that more parents are heading in Christine’s direction. A recent study of teenagers and phones by the Pew Research Center Internet and American Life Project said that parents regard their children’s phones as a “parenting tool.” About two-thirds said they checked the content of their children’s phones (whether teenagers pre-emptively delete texts is a different matter). Two-thirds of the parents said they took away phones as punishment. Almost half said they used phones to check on their child’s whereabouts.
Anne Collier, editor of NetFamilyNews.org, a parenting and technology news blog, noted that stealth monitoring may be warranted in rare cases, when a parent suspects a child is at serious risk, such as being contacted by an unknown adult.
But generally, she said, spying can have terrible repercussions:
“If you’re monitoring your child secretly,” Ms. Collier said, “what do you say to the kid when you find something untoward? Then the conversation turns into ‘you invaded my privacy,’ which is not what you intended to talk about.
From my perspective after many years as an educational technology specialist and just a bit less as a parent, one advantage of Dr. Gwenn’s book is that it offers parents a comprehensive way to learn about their children’s digital lives via a familiar and trusted medium — a book (but don’t be fooled the book includes lots of instructions encouraging parents to do things online).
So the New York Times headline sums things up quite well, “…Parents Play Catch-Up.” but family life can change, just by tapping the skills parents already use with their children. Near the end of her book introduction Dr. Gwenn writes, “We’re all slightly entangled in the Web. Becoming untangled is a matter of embracing our inner parent. You already do that so well off-line — let’s start the journey to doing that online!”