Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Digital Parenting

I'm a firm believer in using technology to aid in parenting. I'm a "Big Brother is watching you" kind of mom. My son is a tech savvy kid; he has a cell phone, he now has his own computer, he's in a program that will teach him computer animation, website design, how to write mobile phone apps, digital photography, digital movie making/editing, and he's on the computer a lot for both educational and recreational purposes. We are a "techie" family. So it just makes sense to me to use that technology to keep an eye on my kid and make sure he's not getting into something he shouldn't be before it's too late.

For example, as those of you who read my blog know, I recently used the GPS tracking feature on my son's cell phone to track it down when it was stolen from his school. Within 20 minutes of its being stolen, it had been recovered (thanks again, Xena*!). This feature is also great to use for me to know exactly where Jamie is at all times. I know some parents may find this a little extreme of me. But, I remember what it was like to be just a little older than Jamie is now. I frequently lied about where I was and what I was doing. If my mom had ever had this kind of technology to bust me for lying about where I was and what I was doing, I wouldn't have gotten into nearly as many bad things as I did as a kid. Jamie is my child. Lying comes very (too!) easily to him. Not only do I like the fact that I can look on either the computer or my cell phone at any time and know exactly where he is - via his cell phone, I also like the fact that he knows I can do this. This means he is much less likely to lie about where he is. Also, he knows I can and will call him at any moment to ask him a question or clarify instructions about when to be home. This means he can't just turn his cell phone off or pass it off to someone else to make it look like he was somewhere other than he was. He knows if he fails to answer, he's in deep doo-doo, so he better take the phone with him. He also knows if he takes the phone with him and I "ping" his location (as I often do) and he isn't where he's supposed to be, he's in even deeper doo-doo.

The new computer I got for him has a similar feature, called "Lojack for Laptops." Through it, if his computer is ever stolen, I can put a trace on it and track it down within minutes. That information is then conveyed to the police, who can retrieve it. This feature came free for the first year, but I am sure I will renew it yearly after that. I don't know how much it costs, but I think it will be worth it.

Because Jamie is on the computer so much, I also have parental controls enacted on all computers he uses. I limit what sites he can go to, what he can download, and how long he is allowed to be online. If he's doing homework and needs more time on the Internet for research, it's very simple for me to grant him more time. If he's just playing around, he doesn't need to be on "Club Penguin" more than 30 minutes, anyway. I don't want him to turn into one of those kids who spend all day playing some online game. If the sun is shining and the air quality is good that day, he should be outside. If it's raining or the air quality is bad, he can read a book/build LEGOs/do chores inside or whatever.

I also don't want him nosing his way onto sites where he'll see stuff he shouldn't. There's a lot of nasty stuff on the web - some have URLs that are remarkably similar to that of kid-friendly sites. For my spelling-challenged son, it is too easy for him to accidentally mistype a URL and get somewhere I really don't want him to be. It is much easier for me to just have a list of approved websites he can visit, and block all others. If he finds a new site he wants to visit, he has to tell me the URL and I'll go look at it myself on my computer. If it's harmless and has features set up to limit the amount of pervs who will have access to my child, then I'll add it to his list. If you don't know what I mean about limiting perverts/pedophiles' access to kids, I'll explain a bit. Club Penguin, NeoPets and several other kid-oriented sites have a delay chat feature. Basically, when members try to chat, there's a delay between when the person types a message and when the other members can see it. During this delay, a filter is applied to the message to make sure there's no objectionable content. Sexually suggestive comments, invitations to meet, and personal information (address, phone number, real name, etc.) are blocked from being seen by others. This is a wonderful thing!

Many of my regular readers have children who are still too young for such measures, or your children are grown up and you have grandchildren who are still too young. Some of you have children about the same age as Jamie. Tell me, what do you think about digital parenting? Is it something you'll do when your child(ren) gets old enough to regularly use technology? Is it something you use now for your child(ren)? To what degree? Do you think any of it goes too far? Not far enough? Please leave me a comment in the comments section. I'd like to hear your thoughts on the subject!

*name changed to protect the innocent


Suze said...

I think all this totally makes sense. In some ways, all the technology available to kids makes parenting more complicated than when we were in jr high and high school, but the ability to track cell phones and laptops really makes a difference.
I don't know what I'll do when my kids are a little older. Limit their time on the computer, etc, for sure, and have limited access to internet sites for obvious reasons. But the cell phone tracking - I guess I'll do it if I feel it's necessaray. We'll see.

Jessi said...

I'm a techie, too, so I'm sure I'll use all this. I don't use parental controls on the computer yet because Brynna can't type, so I have a lot of control just by having to come type addresses for her. She goes to a very limited number of sites and has to get me when a window pops up (sometimes this is to notify her that she's leaving the site which helps). When it comes time for a cell phone, I'll get GPS tracking. I just think it's safer. If she's not home on time or whatever, I can see if she's moving toward home or if she's on the side of the road dead. And, as you've shown, it's good for stolen/lost items as well. My little brother is a senior in high school and his stuff gets stolen ALL THE TIME. I can't believe how often. If I can limit that by everyone knowing I GPS my kid, then so be it.

I'm not so into the big brother aspect, but I'm not opposed to it either. And just like I knew that my mom could look in my room and my car anytime she wanted, I don't think it hurts a kid to know you can check up even if you never actually use it.

Strangeite said...

I debated if I was going to respond to this post, not because I think you are wrong (which I don't, it takes all kinds of parenting styles to make the world go round) but because I am the complete opposite.

Riley is almost 12 years old and is a pretty tech savy kid. I use no filtering software of any kind on the computer or his iPod touch (which is basically a mini computer) and this was a conscience choice.

As of right now, I am smarter then him. I can check up on what he is doing (if necessary) because I know you to use the command line and find out if he is hiding something. In fact, I would be very pleased if he got to the point where he could out fox his old man.

And really that gets to the heart of the matter. When I was growing up, I snuck out of the house A LOT. I had an elobrate system of using ropes and ladders to get out of my second story bedroom without my parents knowledge. I would want Riley to have to do the same thing if he wanted to sneak out.

Here is the deal I have made with myself in my head. If I catch my kids, then they are in for a whole heap of trouble. But, if they manage to pull the wool over my eyes and not get caught (which also means not getting into trouble out in the world in which I would find out) then more power to them.

I feel that I should give them freedom until they prove to me that it must be taken away.

However, as my wife pointed out last night at dinner, it will be interesting to see if I feel the same way when Sophie becomes a teenager.

Animal said...

Great post, Jenn! Roslyn is still too young for any of this to be an issue, but it's certainly there to be thought about. Tess and I are still late-20th century people when it comes to tech: we try to figure out whether or not we'll let Roz have a phone in her room, or a television. Ha! Already we're some of the last people our age we know of who even HAVE a "land line," and of course cell phones mean that the concept of a "second line" for your teenager is SO outdated!

I liked what you said here: "Not only do I like the fact that I can look on either the computer or my cell phone at any time and know exactly where he is … I also like the fact that he knows I can do this." This, to me, is the rub: it's not a threat *per se*, but as you suggest, the knowledge that "I can catch you if I want" is can be a powerful deterrent. Of course, that opens up a whole nother can of worms, namely: if you find out information that isn't what you expected, are you going to be "okay" with it? i.e., if you search someone's room for pot, and then FIND it, now you have to deal with it. If you DON'T search for pot, and (as Strangeite suggests) your kid isn't otherwise getting "caught," then you don't have to deal with it. Sometimes just going looking for stuff leads to unpleasant confrontation, whereas a little harmless tomfoolery that goes unnoticed also goes unconfronted.

Like Strangeite, I snuck out a lot between the ages of, say, 10 and 14. My best friend and I would lurk through dark backyards, hoping to find someone with laundry still left on the line, and we'd stuff as much of it as we could into their mailbox. We'd have the best treat of all: a microwaved hotdog from 7-11 at 2:00am. (*sound of adult retching*) The most we came to getting into trouble was when we "broke" into the local high school (through a door that wasn't technically locked). We weren't there to vandalize or steal…we just wanted to wander around where we shouldn't be, in the dark. Some kids WOULD get into further trouble, though, so the best thing to do I guess is know your kid well enough to be sure: would he just wander around, or has he gotten in with a crowd that would first vandalize? Then steal? Then burn down? Those kinds of activities CAN be "gateways" that can ramp up awfully fast.

BTW: I will still be in San Marcos next week, Friday and Saturday, but I'm looking at a fairly hectic conference schedule. If you want to stay in contact, why don't you email me a phone number and I'll keep you posted once I get there?

Jenn-Jenn, the Mother Hen said...

To some extent, I try to let Jamie alone so he can learn how to make decisions properly. But, again, I know what I did growing up. I did many many many things WAY TOO EARLY and my mother, God bless her soul, was wrapped up in her own grief and depression, so she didn't notice warning signs until it was WAY TOO LATE. I love my mother, and she did the best she could. BUT - she wasn't exactly observant. I want to be observant. I want to catch my son if he starts straying down a bad path before it's too late to bring him back. A friend of mine found out a few years ago that her 12 year old son was no longer a virgin. A 15 year old girl down the street who was supposed to keep her eye on him after school (not babysit, necessarily, but just keep an eye out for him and make sure he didn't need anything) until my friend (a single mom, like me) could get home. Well, seems 15 year old girl was hiding a drinking habit from everyone, decided she thought 12 year old boy was really cute and she'd do him the "favor" of taking his virginity. I know the odds are against Jamie still being a virgin when he hits college, and him being a virgin when he one day gets married is a really long shot. But I just think 12 is way too young for that. I had a drinking problem myself by the time I was 13. And I'm not talking beer. Whiskey, bourbon, vodka. The harder the better. And my mom, because she worked late and was wrapped in her own grief and depression, never noticed I was drunk by the time I got home. She didn't notice when I started hanging out with boys who were way too old for me. She didn't notice when I'd start coming home from "playing with friends" (i.e., drinking and getting stoned in the field behind the neighborhood). She didn't notice anything. By the time I wised up, I'd already done many things I wish I hadn't. Due to our family history, I didn't get to be a kid very long. I want to make sure Jamie actually gets a childhood. I want to be able to catch him when he's just started heading down that wrong path - just before "stupid decision" turns into "life-marring action". Maybe it's naive of me to think I can stop such behavior, but at least I mean to try to delay it for a while.

Jenn-Jenn, the Mother Hen said...

I should add that I don't only want to be observant. I want Jamie to know I'm observant. He has impulse control issues. There's no filter being thinking about saying/doing something and actually saying/doing it. If he knows I know what he does and where he goes, I hope that will help act as a deterrent in what he thinks about saying/doing. Anyway, that's my reasoning.

Strangeite said...

The simple truth is that you must parent the way you feel is right for your child.

You care very deeply about Jamie and that is the most important part.

Jessi said...

That story is too too scary. Makes you want to lock your kids in a closet. You're doing a great job with Jamie.

Becca said...

I totally understand your POV, but I confess I'm more on Roy's side. Maybe I'm an optimist and it's easy to remain so since he's 5, but I'm more in the realm of extending trust until he gives me a reason not to. That doesn't absolve me of the responsibility of keeping a trustful eye on him in the meantime and stepping in if he does things that are more harmful than typical teenage games. I hoping his sense of keeping us proud and reasoning skills will help.

Call me in ten years and we'll see where things stand.