It’s a moment all parents face…. and a few days ago I faced it for the first time… Nia comes home from school and begins telling me about all of her friends who are on Facebook! “Uh oh, here we go,” I said to myself.  Then came… THE QUESTION… “Mommy, can I have a Facebook account?”

I asked her why she wants a Facebook account now. Is it just because everyone else is doing it? You know communicating on the internet can be dangerous! But she began whining, “But Mommy, I know to be safe on the internet, I won’t chat with strangers and I won’t go to the mall to meet strangers…can I PLEASE Mommy!!”

After serious deliberation, (which lasted all of 20 seconds, and that was for effect) my answer was NO. “That’s not fair, she whined, “I thought you liked technology. I thought you liked for me to use the computer.”  (Now that was below the belt, LOL) At first I tried to reason with her by telling her that it’s my responsibility to protect her; to make sure she is focused on school. “But Mommy,” she said, “Facebook is educational!” (WHAT??!!!)  “You can learn a lot on Facebook!” (I thought to myself, yeah, I’m sure you can!)  She worked on me for about 20 minutes after that, but I wouldn’t budge. In the end she wasn’t hearing it, so I just told her to go to her room, start her homework and that was the end of the discussion…

I’m sure those who know me are surprised.  I am usually the first one in my social circles (real world social circles, that is) to promote the use of kids using technology. Having been a K12 technology teacher for so many years, many of my former students and colleagues would be shocked.  However, I guess because of my profession and being a Mom, it forces me to use extra caution when it comes to my child.  Oh, and by the way, I LOVED my students I taught over the years, as do so many teachers. If I were in a k12 classroom today and the question came up with one of my students, my answer to them would also be NO! I would even reinforce my recommendation with a phone call home.

See family, there is growing evidence out there now that kids today are becoming too wired, too engaged in their technology tools. Researchers are even beginning to wonder if all this over use of technology in younger children is actually rewiring their brain in ways that are different than ours; causing a change in how these children learn and function in society.

Take a look at some of these articles…

A Little History

The concern really is the same one that started years ago with the advent of television. Once television became a technology standard in the home, educators began to worry about the effect increased television viewing had on learning. I recall a conversation I had about 20 years ago with a veteran 5th grade teacher who was close to retirement.  She said she saw the change with the ‘TV generation.’ “All of the sudden,” she said, “We (teachers) had to make learning, FUN!” “Kids today have to be entertained all the time, or they lose interest.” “You know, learning has to be effective, it doesn’t have to always be fun.”

During this time, educational media became very popular as television executives responded to the concerns of the educational community. Shows like Sesame Street, Electric Company, Romper Room and Captain Kangaroo (I’m sure you can think of others.) were developed to bridge the gap between education and media. One of my all-time favorite educational television shows was created by one of my personal heroes in the industry, Dr. William Cosby Fat Albert and the Cosby kids  (BTW, did you know that Bill Cosby has an earned doctorate degree in education from the University of Massachusetts?)

Later as video games came into the mix, the issue became even more pervasive. Again, educators struggled to compete with the video game industry for the attention of children. Teachers saw an even bigger decrease in the attention span of their students, while students’ complaints of being ‘bored’ in the classroom escalated.  Most of the day’s instructional strategies did not account for the fast action packed pace of  video game programs. In addition, educators became alarmed when they began noticing an increase in violent, aggressive behavior in students with the advent of the video game industry. There is a ton of research out there to support this notion. Here’s a link to just one article…  Efforts were, and are still being made to create video games that are entertaining and instructional, however the more popular games that are on most children’s holiday wish list generally don’t have anything to do with education at all.

With the advent of social media, the issue has become (if I may borrow a social media term) viral!  I don’t have to spend time giving you the stats.  Social media is everywhere! Kids today are using it at younger and younger ages. What’s surprising to me is the growing number of Nia’s friends who are her age (9) and have social media accounts!

What’s My Point?

I guess, the point I’m trying to make is really the same one I harp on… too much of a good thing ends up not being good.  Parents have to remember that the primary goal of these social media sites is to entertain children, not educate. There is a growing movement of educators using social media in their classes more and more; however most administrators, (and especially school IT officers) are still somewhat leery of this. (Although, I believe that will decrease over time.)

 If you decide that social media use for your child is OK, then consider these points…

  • Monitor your child’s social media use. Demand that you be given the password, or better yet, create the password for them when you help them set up the account.
  • Limit the time students can spend on social media; and even on the computer. If the computer is needed to complete homework assignments, then fine, but after that shut it down and tell them to find another activity! (preferably not watching TV, or talking on the phone)
  • Consider creating and using a social media account yourself. That way you’ll be aware of trending topics, controversial postings etc. You can at least be aware of what your child is being exposed to. You can try being their friend or follower, but don’t be surprised if you get denied!
  • Have on going conversations about social media with your child; discussing its benefits and downfalls.  Teach your child to be an educated consumer of social media. Tell them not to go for the new fad just because it’s popular.
  • There are numerous ‘kid friendly” safe social media sites out there that your child can be a part of. Consider getting together with a group of your child’s friends’ parents, and as a group decide on using one of these sites and allow your children to create a profile on these sites only. That way, they will be able to interact with friends, they know in the real world; which is one required rule for safety on the internet.
  • Finally, realize that your ability to say No will not last forever! Eventually, your child will create a social media account on their own and without your permission, and you won’t have the password! Now is the time to teach them how to be responsible social media users so that they will make wise decisions later on. When the day comes that they are using social media on their own, close your eyes and hope for the best! Hopefully, you have prepared for the worse.

In the End

As a compromise, Nia is beginning to be allowed to create profiles in sites that have various online activities, not necessarily social media; but it’s a step in that direction. She has her own playlist on my MySpace site that she can access on her own. She is also being allowed to view my Facebook and Twitter accounts when appropriate. She also is being encouraged to email people more often as long as they are family members, or someone I know in the REAL WORLD. Soon, we will be using Skype to talk to her very good friend who now lives in Texas.

I’m sure there is going to be growing debate as time continues. Each side will have valid points and arguments to make.  The important thing is before you tell your child Yes, or No, consider all the factors and make an informed decision based on your family’s computer ‘lifestyle.’ You set the tone and your child will follow!  Here are some resources to get you started…

Good Luck! (beware, very commercialized)

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