It seems that there has long been a technology gap between parents and their children. When I was a kid, we had to show my parents how to get the VCR to stop flashing 12:00. Remarkably, that’s nothing compared to the gulf that stands between what children know and what their parents don’t know—or even don’t know they know. Although I’m speaking in generalities, the fact remains that technological advances are increasing at an amazing rate—and it’s often the youngest of our species who are mastering these techno possibilities.
You’d be surprised at the number of kids (and age of kids) who have cell phones, iPhones, iPods, iPads, laptops, Google accounts, Yahoo accounts, Facebook accounts, and Swiss bank accounts—well, maybe not that last one, but they are still very wired creatures. And we’re not just talking about high school kids anymore. Today, middle school and some elementary school students are venturing into the world of technology beyond their Wiis and DS games. I don’t advocate that younger children should have total access to a lot of it because there are risks involved—not to mention a hefty dollar cost. We’re also likely to see adoption of these tools at a younger and younger age every year.
The most important thing that comes to mind when talking about children and technology is safety. Most people are familiar with the possibilities of on-line predators or identity thieves who steal your personal information and then buy new sets of tires for their Hummers. High tech crimes such as these would be very difficult to carry out electronically if it weren’t for something known as your “digital footprint.” This is your entire history captured digitally, or online. It includes your emails, MySpace page, photo galleries, websites, personal records, and more.
Today, the footprints are often beginning with a baby’s first ultrasound images. Eager parents put the pics up on their Facebook or TotSpot pages. There’s nothing wrong with that per se (in fact, it’s kind of cute), but I point it out to demonstrate that everything you do online, stays on line. It’s kind of like Vegas, only the exact opposite in many cases as far as privacy is concerned. That ultrasound picture will remain on the Internet forever. That baby could conceivably find his ultrasound photo on the Internet the day he goes off to college. And, when he graduates and goes looking for a job, his prospective employer can find that video of him at the Beta Theta Pi party last November. (I mean, who hasn’t seen that one? It was all over You Tube.) You may think that you can delete your demons when you’re ready to get serious, however, your media is never really deleted. A few companies and the U.S. Government constantly archive the Internet. Don’t believe me? Check out the Way back Machine at: https://www.archive.org/web/web.php
The biggest problem kids face with their digital footprints, though, can often be trying to “put the toothpaste back into the tube.” In other words, don’t ever assume anything you send will remain private. “Did you see Becky’s dress? OMG, I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing that. IMHO, what a loser! ROTFL.” This dis of a fellow student could come back to haunt the sender (provided you can translate it—and, BTW, all kids can). There is no changing your mind or taking things back in cyberspace.
Good with the bad
OK, now that I’ve got everyone thinking and probably a little scared, let’s talk about the benefits that technology has for our children. Actually, a positive digital footprint can be an advantage. Consider that typical scenario where a student is looking for a job. If his online footprint features his wild St. Paddy’s Day pics or his fan postings of AllThingsIllegal.com, well then, good luck. If, however, the student posts his academic awards and references, or blogs about his volunteering experiences, a prospective employer could get a better feel for the candidate. If he demonstrates excellent communication skills on his
Facebook page, so much the better.
Another area where technology is helpful is in keeping busy families on the same page. To do this, many Mac users take advantage of their Mobile Me accounts. Family members can create their own calendars and sync them to their cloud in Mobile Me. Each person can subsequently subscribe to all the other calendars in the family. Syncing it to the cloud simply means that the calendar is uploaded to a secure web-based account at Apple. It is also downloaded to any device you have: computer, iPhone, iPad, etc. (Cozi.com is another source for multi-user calendars—and it’s free.)
There are umpteen other wonderful ways in which kids and families can benefit from technology. I haven’t even gotten into areas such as educational applications of video games, cell phones, and bar codes. Perhaps I will in my next column. In the meantime, you can reach me at the following QR code: Go ahead and scan it. See what it says.
Jim Keen is a free-lance writer and life-long Ann Arborite. He lives in town with his wife, Bonnie, and daughters, Gabbi (14) and Molly (10). He is the author of Inside Intermarriage: A Christian Partner’s Perspective on Raising a Jewish Family (URJ Press).