Since the dawn of the Internet, people have viewed kids using the Web with suspicion and fear. Similar to the way video games were blamed for rising teen violence rates, the Internet became the next scapegoat. School shootings were linked to chat rooms and message boards. Bullies young and old took to harassing their victims online.
The next wave of child-Internet safety concerns found online predators lurking in AOL chat rooms, then on MySpace. As depicted on the popular NBC series “To Catch a Predator,” the web was a place for pedophiles to violate parole, gaining access to and the trust of innocent children.
Why then, knowing the possibilities of the big, bad Internet, are people raising their kids online?
Simple answer: For many, it’s a part of life as a 21st century parent.
Proud and digitally-involved parents share photos on Flickr, stories about their children on their blog and purchase the URLs of their kids’ names. But how will their enthusiasm affect their kids?
But when it comes to posting kid-centric content, local marketing and PR experts tend to talk about their kids without talking about their kids. Doug Haslam refers to his son as “Boy” when sharing stories about Little League and other activities. Similarly, podcaster and new media marketer C.C. Chapman has a nine year-old and a seven year-old, whose hometown and school names won’t be found online, at least not in any of C.C.’s content.
“Kids today” are probably the first generation to be brought up online, in the sense that their parents have catalogued their lives on the web, like a scrapbook for all to see. Aged ten and below, these youngsters don’t quite understand what their digital footprint is. But they are learning about online safety and making good choices from their parents.
“Just like in the real world, they have to be smart about talking with strangers,” Chapman advised.
But ensuring safety is just the first step.
Teaching and Managing a Digital Identity
Since Facebook opened to the masses, we’ve all heard the horror stories. Recent grads passed over for jobs because of red plastic cups of beer, pageant dreams ruined by naughty pictures–all issues of identity management. Learning that even the sprawling Internet has a fourth wall and people are watching is a tough lesson.
For the next generation of digirati, parents are teaching this by example.
C.C. shared that he won’t “post anything that is overly embarrassing–questionable photos and truly personal stuff stays offline.” That also includes acting ethically online; now that his kids are of age to understand, he asks their permission before posting their photos or videos online.
At a certain point, it’s the kid behind the camera, mobile device or social networking profile.
“Give kids freedom to make their own choices and mistakes just like the rest of their lives, but pay attention to what they are doing, where they are going and what they are saying/posting online.” C.C. advised.
A Set Up for Future Embarrassment?
When these kids are in high school and college, will a prerequisite for dating my teenage daughter be reading my blog? Before taking a date home to meet the folks, will these cyber-minded teens Google each other? Or each other’s parents? Will dating go the way of job interviews, scanning the social networks to make sure you’re making the right decision?
Maybe. But is it really that earth-shattering?
It’s too soon to tell if and when these kids gain awareness of their digital footprint, what it will mean to their on and offline identity. However, with the web becoming a mainstay in how we interact and learn about each other, on and offline identity will likely be one in the same by the time these kids are in college.
Pamela Sieple, an expecting mother and author of the Little Baby Lump blog, said, “The blog is basically just a more personal, virtual baby book.”
Baby books have embarrassed teens, tweens and pre-teens for as long as they’ve existed, and long before the Internet.
As Pamela put it, “We all have to go through some level of parental embarrassment, right?”