From cell phone to iPods and more, technology isn’t just here to stay — it’s an integral part of most people’s everyday lives. While some argue that technology has afforded us an improved lifestyle, others say it’s taken away from family life and is ruining people’s ability to communicate and socialize without handheld gadgets. For kids growing up in the information age, speedy technological updates are all they’ve ever known — something older generations might struggle with. Read on to see how Waukee families use technology and how they feel it’s had an affect on their lives, for better or for worse.
For kids growing up today, they haven’t known of a world without iPads, laptops, cell phones or X-boxes. Families have many of these items in their homes, and now schools are even employing them as well, relying on the draw of certain kinds of technology to get kids interested in learning and to help facilitate teaching. The question a lot of parents are asking is: How can I keep my children safe online?
Jeff Carpenter is dad to two kids – Connor, 13, and Caitlin, 9. As a technology consultant professionally, he understands the risks and dangers out there, and he says he and his wife have taken steps to keep their kids safe online.
The Carpenters have set up separate logins for each child on their home computers, and the login also has parameters that will allow only certain programs to be accessed or limits the amount of time that login can be used. The computer is in a central location in the house. While they aren’t standing over the kids’ shoulders, Carpenter says they do check up on what they’re doing online.
If there’s a news story pertaining to online safety, Carpenter uses it as a teaching moment. He also uses real life examples. He recently got a phishing email, an email that’s sent for the purposes of trying to extract data by making it look like it’s coming from a reputable site, like Amazon.com.
“Rather than delete it, I kept it and showed the kids,” he says. “It looked like it came from PayPal, but I showed them how to tell whether the link was real or not. I told my son, ‘This could be something you think is from ESPN, Connor, but it’s not.’ Rather than be a policeman, I want them to know what the dangers are themselves.”
Carpenter says when it comes to social media sites like Facebook, the kids are required to have their parents as friends. If they don’t want to, their accounts are deleted. They also have to share their passwords with their parents. Gone are the days of privacy. Online, there’s too much potential for risk.
Another thing that Carpenter says is extremely important is that parents must try to be as tech savvy as their kids — no small feat.
“I look at my own parents, and they would be victims of a lot of attacks because they don’t know what the potential dangers are,” he says. “My biggest advice is try to educate yourself as much as possible on the technology before you expose your kids to it. If your kids know more about it than you do, that’s where the danger comes.”
Ann Wagener is also mom to two kids, eighth grader Izzy and kindergartener Zach. She says the expectation for Izzy has always been that she will be checking up on her.
“We have lots of discussions about safety and contacting someone you don’t know,” she says. “Don’t put personal info out there. Don’t respond to people you don’t know and check with us first. I think you have to have those conversations more than once.”
Wagener says it goes beyond safety issues, too. Kids need to be reminded that what goes online is up there forever — and it can be damaging in other ways. She reminds her daughter that certain things aren’t appropriate to share and to be sure not to put anything online that might have the potential for future embarrassment, also sometimes difficult to determine as a teenager.
“It invites problems not only with strangers but with your own social network and your own friends,” she says. “Don’t worry just about strangers lurking but also how you present yourself online. Parents are very leery about social media, but this is a social media world.”
Wagener also feels staying up to date on technology is important — as a parent and also as a teenager. As a parent, if her daughter has Instagram, she has Instagram. If her daughter is on Twitter, she’s on Twitter. As Carpenter said, it’s important to know tools your child is using. But Wagener says ultimately parents should allow them to be involved as much as they can with different media tools because it’s an important way to gain information and stay connected.
“If you are a kid who’s older and you’re not using them, you are left out sometimes,” she says. “Kids use those things to reach out to teach other. Teachers and coaches put info out there because it’s so quick to get things out to everyone at once. I used to be a teacher, and if I was the last teacher in the building to hear someone had a baby, I would feel bad. You want to feel connected to your community, so I’m all for it as long as it’s supervised.”
Too much tech?
Though we’ve all heard the stories of teenage girls, particularly, sending thousands of text messages or sitting and texting a friend who is sitting right next you, the families we talked to said it hasn’t been like that for them. While their families have embraced technology, from Kindles to laptops and iPads and more, they aren’t on them constantly either.
“We have not had to actively combat it,” says Wagener. “We are really busy, and Izzy is in dance and gymnastics, and if her choice is do something with someone versus by herself with a piece of tech, she chooses the activity. If she had the choice to go to the mall or stay home online, she’d hands down pick the mall.”
Carpenter says he sees that texting has taken the place of phone calls in the evening after school, but he’s ultimately ok with that.
“I think it depends on the rest of the kid’s life,”he says. “If they’re involved in activities that promote them being outgoing and social and developing those skills, then it doesn’t bother me.”
Connie Wood has four daughters. Her oldest got a cell phone in later middle school, and they’ve set that same timeframe for all the other kids to get one, too. They find it convenient to be able to easily stay in touch, but the kids don’t live on their phones either.
“We have an active household doing gymnastics and soccer and piano, and all year long someone’s in a sport,” she says. “I used to watch TV when I got home from school, and I chalk it up to using that free time for what you want, and I don’t put a lot of limits on it. It starts to get tricky at bedtime when they should be done and unplug and let the texts stop and read a book and settle. But, ultimately, it hasn’t been an issue for us.”
Wood says her daughters are much more likely to be out hanging with their friends than catching up on Facebook. Actually, her oldest daughter, Audrey, 16, just got an account last year. She thought it would waste too much time, so she decided to hold off. Wood says she lets the girls police themselves, and she only gets involved if it becomes a problem.
“I think sometimes when you put limits on stuff, I’m not big on it because I think that’s all you want then,” she says. “It makes it more attractive, and that’s all they think about.”
She did relate a funny story about her extended family. Her brother and his sons are very much into technology. When the family gathered for Christmas, Wood’s mother said there was a “No Tech Allowed” rule while they were visiting.
“We walked in — my family all looking at our phones acting like we were typing and texting — and she was talking to us and we ignored her,” she says. “She had a good sense of humor about it, but it’s frustrating for her to deal with it sometimes, and it makes sense because you’re left out and it seems disrespectful.”
Amie Wilson and her three kids — Miranda, 15; Emilie, 13; and John, 10 — are pro-tech. The girls have iPhones, and her son has a cell phone as well. She finds them to be useful tools, but she agrees that in their house, it’s not an option to hole up in your room and stare at a screen.
“Our kids are so active with church and sports and with homework and chores, that quite honestly, if we’re on a car going on a long trip, they finally have time to play some games and can have some downtime,” she says. “We like to be outside and ride bikes so there is plenty of time for those sorts of active things, too.”
Walking the line
When it comes to technology, most everyone agreed that it’s mostly good and that it’s definitely here to stay. So setting limits and figuring out what works for your family is the best way to approach things. Only you can determine what you’re comfortable with, what your kids are ready for, and what you’ll ultimately allow.
For Wagener, the biggest thing is just being involved. Know what your kids are doing. Make sure no one is camped out in his or her room for hours at a time. Keep electronics in a public area, and for handheld devices, check them out every once in a while. Ultimately her motto is not to under-react but not to overreact either.
“If it was preferred over all else, I’d set parameters,” she says. “We like our DVR and our computer and our phones and stuff, too, but it’s the same thing. You only like it for so long. Anytime something is new, they use it a lot for a while, and then the novelty wears off. It gives you that feeling that’s all they’re doing, but then they go back to life.”
Wilson says ultimately you have to trust your kids and figure out what you will do if they abuse their privileges. Ultimately she disagrees with those who think technology is evil.
“I think they’re great learning tools,” she says. “I have a nephew with Williams Syndrome, and that is a very good learning tool for him to learn sensory things and games with noises. It has to do with your parenting and the rules you’ve established. You can’t blame tech itself. There are practical uses, and it’s not just spoiled kids who have cell phones. I feel very confident in my kids’ usage at this time.”