Should you Friend your Family?

canstockphoto3028085The fact that we have the ability to do something doesn’t mean that we have the right to do something.

Think about all those embarrassing posts you’re putting up of your kids, friends or family doing stupid things. Yes, you have the ability to share this information but do you have the right? And even if you have the right, should you still do it? What will be the ramifications later of what you’re posting now?

To a certain extent, I am guilty of this as well. Anyone that has ever received our Christmas newsletter knows that it is filled with stories about my family and myself usually doing something funny or something that gives others a chuckle. It wasn’t until this year however that I realized I need to be more careful about what I write. My oldest is now 11 and fully capable of reading, and fully capable of understanding my sarcasm. Things that I could write in the past now need to pass her test as well. The family newsletter goes out to a rather limited group, and in hard copy not electronically, as compared to how many people could read those stories on the Internet, but nonetheless it brings up an interesting choice.

“We are the first generation of parents whose children will grow up entirely online, with every single moment of their lives documented, recorded, and stored publicly,” — Randi Zuckerberg (133).

Much is made of what our own kids are posting, texting or God forbid sexting each other today, but what about their parents? For our kids, their digital identity begins before they are even born. From the outset, we need to be careful how and what we share on behalf of our kids (Zuckerberg 143).

Look, a favorite past time for parents is trying to figure out new ways to embarrass the kids. For the most part this is typically harmless as most parents kind of know when to draw their own lines. But it is one thing to give your kid a hug in front of his classmates for which he or she might get a little bit of ribbing, it is something completely different to post an embarrassing comment or photo of them for all the world, and their friends to see (and repost repeatedly).

Another challenge of parenting in the digital age is the kids will model our behavior. In 2011, the Joseph Rowntree foundation found that children who see their parents drunk are twice as likely, as grownups, to regularly get drunk themselves. Even if your children see you under the influence only on a few occasions (Zuckerberg 134).

I saw this in my own harsh way when I realized my kids, even at a young age, were emulating road rage behavior that they saw in me. It is what let me to excise road rage for my repertoire of driving skills four years ago. Now I’m working on quitting texting in Church – look, okay, it’s not texting, it’s how I capture my thoughts since I no longer carry a pen and paper around. But, that argument is lost on the kids who think I’m just screwing around.

If your kids see you texting or in some other way ignoring them or your spouse, because you’re spending family time with your face buried in a smart phone, tablet or computer screen, no matter how much you tell them, they will emulate your behavior not your desires. 

It is a scientific fact. Scientists have begun to shed light on why this happens and the role “mirror neurons” play in our brain. Neurons are the brain cells that help us communicate, think, feel, and love. They help us learn by imitation (Zuckerberg 134).

Think about this from a practical perspective. Emulation is a survival skill. If you tell someone not to do something but then you do it, their brain interprets that this action likely does not have severe consequences because, despite your words, your actions still did the thing. So the rule here is: do what I want my kids to emulate, because they sure as hell aren’t listening!

There is another component to technology in our lives and that is the big question of how much of a role should it play in our child’s development. There was a time early on with my wife and I would make a long road trip to visit her family. We would bring DVDs for the DVD players but only restrict the kids to a couple of movies because we wanted to have them spend some time singing, playing some road games and doing something besides watching TV.

That rule lasted exactly one trip.

We quickly decided that it really did not matter if they wanted to spend their entire time watching movies and playing games. After all, it was just one day of driving out of 364 other days of the year (and frankly I’d rather spend the time listening to books on tape rather than having to yell a conversation into the back seat). If there truly is something interesting to see we do expect them to put the technology down so that they can look at it, but otherwise it keeps them quiet and makes driving more peaceful for everyone involved.

That is the key with technology. You can’t just ignore it, and tell the kids to go outside and play with some rocks. Well, yes you can but understand that when they are playing with all of this technology they are preparing themselves for their future (Zuckerberg 139).  The lesson here is moderation. We limit the amount of tech time the kids get on a daily basis, and make sure there are plenty of other opportunities for them to “get outside.” But, as a kid growing up in the 70s and 80s, I recall a lot of my outside time was filled with playing games, but there was also a lot of it filled with sitting around staring at the sky wondering what to do.

Dr. Teresa Bolton, a researcher at the University of East Anglia’s is School of Education and Lifelong Learning discovered that when kids were given the freedom to waste time of their own, they filled those moments with creative projects, developing when she refers to as a “internal stimulus” that leads to a rich life of creative expression (Zuckerberg 147).

An iPad doesn’t mean your kids have shut their minds off. There are apps for painting, drawing, writing, composing music, reading and scientific exploration that can fire up the imagination of any bored kid (Zuckerberg 147).

I recently saw this with one of my sons. He loves building those Lego sets, you know the ones that already have the Jedi starfighter or Coast Guard boat prefabricated and you just have to follow the directions? He was asking me the other night if I had Legos growing up. I did not, because I had a friend who had Legos so why spend twice the money. Plus, I had the Erector set with the razor sharp edges and an awesome set of Lincoln Logs. I explained to him that our Lego sets were completely freeform. This puzzled him! He does have a box of free-form Legos without any prefabricated designs, but I think he usually uses them the spare parts when he loses ones from one of his actual sets. It was almost unbelievable to him that we would attempt to put Legos together without an instruction manual.

So whether we are talking about an iPad, or a prefabricated Lego set, I think it is still important to give our kids tools, such as paper and pencils, bricks and rocks and a freeform Lego set to let them see where their creativity takes them. In the meantime I guess I will watch myself and try to be a little less creative in my storytelling, lest something be posted on the Internet that haunts them for the rest of their tech-lives.

By the way, I want to thank Randi Zuckerberg for supporting these posts this week and for writing her excellent book on this subject. It has helped my wife and I and by transfer of knowledge, my students in my college courses, better understand how to integrate technology into our lives.

Zuckerberg, Randi. Dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives. New York: HarperCollins Limited, 2013. Print.

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