The Internet is an amazing window to the world. Yet at the same time, it can be a gate-way to trouble. As an anchor for Fox 10, I can’t begin to count the number of stories we’ve reported over the years where a crime, bullying or even death, began with the click of a mouse.
From a social media post that might led a child to a party they should’ve avoided, to the terrible things peers said about a classmate with impunity, to a meeting with an online stranger who wanted to do them harm, we’ve covered them all. The one common denominator in all of these terrible outcomes: a young person using these powerful tools with little or no supervision. In almost every case, we end up inter-viewing a grieving parent who just didn’t know what their kids were up to. If only they had paid closer attention, kept their ears and eyes open, and kept strict control over these electronic devices—tragedy could have been avoided.
Just last year, a close friend of mine lost a daughter to suicide. Apparently, sexting and provocative pictures swirled on line. Bullied unmercifully, she hanged herself. Fifteen years old. Gone. The grief and guilt the parents feel is with them everyday. Despite all the negativity that’s out there, the Internet has proven to be a powerful learning tool. When my son Michael asked if we really landed on the moon, I was able to Google “moon landing” and show him Neil Armstrong’s first steps onto the lunar surface.
Another time, the kids wanted to know about what caused a rainbow. I knew a little bit about water droplets and sunlight, but an Internet search filled in the details that my mom and dad probably would have fudged back in the day. Although our twins are only 7 and our son is only 6, we’re already getting a crash course in how to stay a step ahead of them. So many of these devices now are so intuitive—the kids can figure out features on phones and computers we’ve never even attempted to figure out. One morning, I grabbed my iPhone to check my messages. I was shocked to discover that Kendall, one of our twin boys, had completely rearranged the settings on my phone. He turned all images into a “negatives,” put a new wallpaper picture on the open screen of the two of us at Disneyland (cute, but still disconcerting) and even managed to cluster my apps into groups. Helpful, but a warning shot across daddy’s bow.
And that’s exactly the problem. This new generation knows more about these devices than we do. This requires parents to be up to date with the technology their kids are using, be aware of what they’re looking at and stay, if not a step ahead, then in lockstep with them.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Here are a few things my wife Gina and I agree to:
No computer time without a parent in the room.
Keep the computers in a central location in the kitchen, dining room or family room.
Periodically, go online and check what they’re looking at.
You set the sites they can surf. And if they stray, turn the computer off.
For handheld devices, lock out Google, the phone and the app store. Allow only what is appropriate.
Frequently check their photos and movies (my kids love to take them). Delete inappropriate pictures. You know kids; they’ll push the envelope. Some images, innocent as they may be, can be disastrous in the wrong hands. Explain to them why certain things are in-appropriate.
Finally, remember you are the parent. You have ultimate control of any devices they use.
It would be great if kids came with a manual or instruction video. Unfortunately, we’re on our own, with only the guidance of those who have come before. Bottom line: Stay engaged and observant. As Ronald Reagan famously said about arms reduction with the Soviet Union, “Trust, but verify.
By \\ John Hook