It’s a Digital World and Moms are the Sheriffs: Digital Citizens

It used to be that it was sufficient for a mom to have eyes in the back of her head. Now we need passwords, codes and privacy settings to keep an eye on things.

A committee of educators and law enforcement representatives in Hoover has formed to help educate parents and students on the responsibilities and opportunities of Digital Citizenship, and their suggestions could benefit all of us.

Hoover is home of the Hoover Hot Shots, kids who’ve become YouTube stars and whose wacky basketball shots have been featured in Hampton Inn commercials. What mom wouldn’t be thrilled to see her kids spending time doing something completely harmless – basketball shots – let alone, earn residuals for college? The Hot Shots’ story stands as a great local example of the positive power of the internet.

But there is a darker side, and we’re often the only force between innocent kids and the scary monsters of cyberspace. Consider that kids are carrying smart phones with internet access, and you realize how much control is out of your hands and in the pockets of your kids’ friends or the homes they visit.  Consider some tips:

Control the phone – Educators report some kids are missing sleep because they are receiving and responding to late night texts from friends. Take the phone away in the evenings or consider placing limits through your cell phone service such as no text messages from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. and texts allowed only to your phone  number (in case of emergency) from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Watch the games – Wii, X-box, and others can connect to the internet for online chat during play. Put controls on games to be sure your kids aren’t able to connect with strangers and be cautious with the games themselves.  Even if you don’t object to the shooting in a game rated “M” (mature), you might be shocked by language that would make an Oliver Stone combat movie look tame.

Supervise online time – The family computer needs to be out in a shared space where you can have an eye on whatever is going on. I’ve decided that we need two chairs at the family computer desk – one for a kid, one for a parent.  With me on my laptop, we can sit side-by-side, with me still being productive but available and observant.

Consider the law – In Alabama, it is a felony offense to produce, possess, send or receive obscene matter, and that includes the much feared racy (okay, naked) photo. You’ve heard horror stories about these situations and I need not go on about them here. Just consider that the law was written before the days of digital photography and impulsive phone photos.  That means a kid as young as 16,  if convicted, could have to register as a sex offender. What could be creepier than that? – a comprehensive site with recommendations based on age level. (I’ve lived long enough to observe that “common sense” is not so common – we all need guidance from time to time.)

It’s commendable that a group of concerned adults has come together to help us navigate the digital community. Now, let’s take the blinders off that second set of eyes and focus on rearing prepared digital citizens.