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Digital Immigrants

Recently I listened to an online conference with a variety of speakers. I was especially impressed by several professionals addressing the challenges of parenting in the Cyber Age. Most parents and grandparents are “digital immigrants,” trying to raise children — “digital natives” — to be good digital citizens. This is not parenting for the thin-skinned or soft minded. These kids are wandering in the technological Wild West. Flash mobs are striking urban shopping areas. There are more than 2,000 online casinos with several million teens with a serious gambling habit. Twenty-five percent of children and adolescents “find” pornography while online. One-in-five children have been solicited online. Middle school age girls are involved in “sexting” messages.

Many people want to have children without actually parenting them. They avoid conflict and often believe they can remain friends with their children. According to one psychologist, parents now “lose control” of their children at age 11 (formerly at age 13). So parents cannot suddenly impose restrictions in the teen years. As all children are online, everywhere, anytime, they are suffering from higher rates of depression and obesity. Their sleep is more scattered, less consistent, and they go to bed later at night.

Some of the suggestions by pediatricians and psychologists:

*No television for children under age two (Sorry about those genius baby videos)
*A limit of two hours of daily screen time for children, including Internet use
*Only home-based Internet use for middle school children
*All home computers in a public area; possibly in bedrooms for high school age
*No bedroom TVs for children
*Parents and children should “friend” each other on their social media
*Consider collecting all phones from those attending parties and sleepovers
*Ask children to show parents that they understand privacy settings; no sharing of passwords with others
*Teach that being online is being in public
*Never send any message you wouldn’t say face to face

Open communication with parents is the goal. The use of online contracts by parents can provide talking points. Parents may announce and conduct regular computer and phone audits to see who/where they are visiting. Tracking and screening programs are available. Families need to have regular discussions about the meaning of terms such as “sexting.” Ask, Do you know of anyone subject to cyber bullying? Do you know anyone who has been bothered online? Of course, adults need to role model safe online and texting behaviors.

Parents can find helpful guidelines and resources from the American Academy of Pediatrics plus other agencies and groups. If you have children and don’t understand computers, smart phones or social media, get some education now. Hint: email is rarely used among the digital natives.

What happens to immigrants who do not learn the language and culture? You cannot afford to be cyber clueless.

Questions for personal journaling and group discussion:

1. What one principle of family technology use could you change right now?

2. How has technology use impacted your spiritual life?

Karen Spruill writes from Orlando, Florida.

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About Karen Spruill

Karen Spruill

writes from Orlando, Florida.

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