What To Do When Your Kids Are More Connected Than You Are and Your First Social Safety Net

How to turn an unknown social network of yours into your kids safety net and maybe even help you start connecting too.

Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.

Bill Gates

Geniuses at Work: Bill Gates watches his friend and future Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen typing on a teletype terminal at the Lakeside School in Seattle in 1968. Gates was 13 when he entered the exclusive prep school, which was around the time this photo was taken.
Geniuses at Work: Gates watches his friend and future Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen typing on a teletype terminal at the Lakeside School in Seattle in 1968. Gates was 13 when he entered the exclusive prep school, which was around the time this photo was taken.

Background

I have two start-up projects underway. The first, Twetailer was inspired by one of those “OMG! Wouldn’t it be great if you could just yada yada yada?” moments. The second, http://edu.cyn.in, was not. No edu, was created out of my 11-year old daughter Sara’s frustration with her school’s computer curriculum. Complaints like: “Why do I care if something is bold?”, or, “Insert a column? When am I ever going to need that when I grow up?”. Yikes! Wouldn’t it be great if Sara could actually use technology for something she cared about?

You can’t always get what you want

– Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones

But Sara also shared the frustration she felt when some of her friends – who are on Facebook, kept urging others to join up, even though they know the minimun age is 14. Similarly for those with MSN, or, gmail accounts. And while I love seeing kids adopt technology, there are valid reasons why these services have age requirements. So, as a parent, what do you do? Do you stick to the rules & tell them to wait until they’re old enough? Do you let them waste their effortless ability to embrace these social technologies and stick to making things bold & inserting colums?

But if you try sometimes, you get what you need

– Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones

So again, as a parent, how do we monitor our kids’ activities on the Net? Google it. Here’s Dr. Phil.com – Advice – Monitor Your Child’s Cell Phone and Internet Activity. There are lots of sites offering all kinds of advice. But mostly all of them assume one thing – that you are as tech savy as your kids. And let’s face it, kids have a lot more time & friends to show them how than most parents do.

But what if you were able to trust another parent to monitor your kid’s activities for you? Like when you let your little one go on a playdate to a friend’s house, or, they’re invited to the movies. If you trust the friend’s parents then you let them go.

Perhaps your first digital social safety net

edu started out to be a way for Sara & her Grade 6 classmates to socialize in a secured and monitored Internet playground. A place where they could experience the power of blogs, wikis, discussions, audio, video, image sharing, etc. while learning the new minimun skills sets required in today’s digital and globally distributed workplace. Pretty soon, edu will be made available for the rest of her school and any other school interested under the following conditions:

  1. The student has to be attending an educational institution registered with edu
  2. There must be at least one parent/guardian, teacher/faculty member monitoring that student’s grade.

In Sara’s case, I monitored her grade. Did that mean all the other parents trusted me (and edu with their children’s related activities? Not necesarly. It turns out, most didn’t have a choice. Over the course of the project, I spoke with a few parents and they simply felt they didn’t have the skill sets to monitor. Even after informing them its just a matter of reading their email, they still felt uncomfortable with this “type of stuff”, but looked forward to watching how their kids used it.

Do the math

So in essence, condition #2 above, became those parents’ new social safety net. All they needed was one adult out of twenty students, to feel comfortable enough to watch over their child in their new digital playground. Is this any different than letting your child go to the movies, or, a school field trip with a parent like that?

My parents always told me: “All we want is for you to have more opportunities than we did growing up.” And they certainly succeeded. As a parent in today’s digital world, it would be a shame not to continue the tradition. edu gives those who aren’t as connected as their kids the opportunity to do just that.

Reflection

What are your thoughts abouts giving your kids access to things like Facebook, MSN, Friendfeed, MySpace, Twitter, Google Talk, AIM, Bebo, buzzup, Delicious, digg, Gmail, Mister Wong, Reddit, Stumbleupon, twine, WordPress and Yahoo? Do you have the skills to monitor their activities across all these sites? What percent of parents do you think can? Where do you fit in this Study: Ages of social network users | Royal Pingdom?

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