Hey, the government does it, why not you? Sitting at a dinner party this weekend, I was amused and felt a bit of empathy listening to other parents talk about their teenagers’ MySpace and Facebook pages. There’s a tattletale in every crowd, and apparently one child had described, in lurid detail, the content of these pages which are ostensibly closed off to parental eyes.
“X has a picture of herself drinking a beer.”
“Y says his sport is “”Partying”””
Etc. First, I love how my generation, quite possibly one of the most substance-abusing, hell-raising generations in modern memory, has so solidly turned to the right to decry anything resembling their own adolescent excesses. I guess it’s the takes-one-to-know-one theory of parenting. I grew up at the tail of the hippies, right at the dawn of the grim professionals, and when I was a teenager the drinking age was 18, drunk driving laws were still relatively lax, drugs were rife, and if you could get it, the notion of premarital sex was just enthralling.
Skip ahead 30 years and some of the more extreme people I have ever known are sitting around a dinner table waxing sanctimoniously about Facebook and how frustrated they are that they can’t peer in to see what their kids are doing.
Eventually the conversation turned to me, resident Internet geek, to ask me what I do when it comes to playing Net Nanny. This is what I told them:
1. Don’t install filters. Filters are bad and a pain in the neck to manage. Kids will always come running to you looking for a password so they can see a site that they will always argue is harmless.
2. Always set yourself as the admin account on their PCs. Hey, if they insist on gunking it up with spyware, and come to you to fix it, then you have to be the admin. Right?
3. Insist on knowing their Windows password. See above. Admin’s need access. Right?
4. Look at the browser history. Use it to back track into the closed sites. Look around. Use your judgment. A photo of junior with a crack pipe posting a recipe for how to cook crystal meth from Sudafed is worth talking about.
5. Look at the search history. Amazing what you can learn about someone from what they look for.
6. Google their names.
7. Figure out what communities they belong to.
8. Give them a blog and help them administer it.
9. Don’t give them IM until they are at least 12. Any principal or teacher will tell you, instant messaging causes a huge amount of school discipline issues. Cliques, online bullies, all this stuff runs wild thanks to IM.
10. Expect them to check on what you’re looking at.
Now, the tough part is letting them know whether or not you’re looking. It’s like Churchill after his intelligence boffins cracked the Enigma code and figured out the German battle plans. Do you let Coventry get bombed and preserve your ability to eavesdrop or do you evacuate the city and burn your conduit?
The best thing you can do for your kid is tear out clips of recent articles exploring the phenomenon of employers and schools looking at what candidates and applicants say online before making hiring or admission decisions. Letting a kid know that their internet presence can follow them forever is the best favor you can do for them.
I have a huge amount of trust in my kids and the last thing I want to do is squelch their curiosity or their access. I am definitely a liberal when it comes to information access and tend to be a more permissive parent than my peers, but I do look, I do discuss and I engage with them all the time about computers. My only disappointment is none of them have displayed the slightest interest in what makes a PC tick, how the Internet works, or how to self-maintain their machines.