Kids, Parents, and Those Very Public Digital Mistakes

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Attention!

Another public figure has made yet another public digital gaffe, giving parents one more opportunity to engage the family in a discussion about the unrelenting power of digital tools.

Representative Weiner (D-NY) is just the latest, and it looks like public figures and celebrities will continue to make these public mistakes, like clockwork, for a long time to come. We can laugh at the ineptness of these public personalities, but the bottom line is that we are all one instant gratification click away from making a public and embarrassing error.

Although we may worry about the safety of our children and their activities on the web, most of these problems, while alarmingly publicized and widely and repetitively covered in the media, are not the biggest risk for children.

What we should dread, however, is the potential harm from a digital misjudgment spontaneously sent off via e-mail, text, Twitter, voicemail, or whatever else we all find to use in the future. Instant digital missives, unlike the gossipy handwritten notes we adults used to pass around to a few people at school, can instantly become public and humiliating. Or they can lie quietly, waiting in the vastness of the web, until some reason arises for people to seek out information about us.

The New York Times article, Erasing the Digital Past, is a must-read for everyone who uses electronic tools and toys, pointing out that the electronic world is public, permanent, and non-erasable. Watch the digital footprint video (embedded at the bottom of this post) from Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society to learn even more.

Visit the Common Sense Media site.

The good thing about all of these prominent figures and celebrities making dumb digital mistakes is that we can learn a lot from them. Each time a media circus occurs, it’s a prefect seque into a family digital discussion. The aim is to expand the digital citizenship and media literacy skills in your family. For a bit of help getting started, Kathleen Parker, in her nationally syndicated June 5, 2011 Washington Post op-ed column, sums up several main topics quite nicely. Here are a several excerpts from her op-ed piece.

  • Our ability to snap a picture and flash it to the world in a nanosecond has taken instant gratification to new, unimagined levels and enabled the twin temptations of exhibitionism and voyeurism…
  • How many such photos, or worse, are in cellphones at this moment? Thousands? Millions? “Sexting” apparently is still popular among the young and firm, whereby one sends a sexually explicit message or photo by mobile phone. (And by the way, kids, no one cares about your tongue. Please put it back in your mouth.)
  •  It is simply too easy to do in private that which feeds our natural exhibitionist/voyeuristic curiosity — and far too easy for that private moment to go public.
  • … don’t touch that send button. Instead, consider hitting “minimize” until morning.

The world has changed and electronic media is everywhere. James Steyer, over at Common Sense Media, calls the media a third parent, one that is not going away anytime soon.

This isn’t, as one mom recently told me, some “… grand experiment that will eventually end and send us back to the golden-olden days of sane communication.” The permanency of the digital world data is one reason why one of Common Sense Media’s 10 beliefs is, “We believe in media sanity, not censorship,” meaning that we need to teach our kids and ourselves how to deal with digital media. It’s here to stay. In fact, many more media developments are in the pipeline.

Read the other nine Common Sense Media beliefs.

About those family conversations. Have them often.

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