This whole email era, IM age, and texting craze will forever be a learning curve for us moms -- but for our kids it's the normal way of life. In fact, they've "grown up" in this tech time and know more than me (I know I'm not the only one!). When I think about it, it's kind of like the microwaves, VCRs, and call-waiting of my generation, that I still sometimes need to explain to my parents.
So normal are these newest technologies for our kids, most kids have their own email addresses, IMing accounts, and cell phones with texting abilities. I can't even believe how many times I've heard that kids don't even talk or play after school anymore past a certain grade. They just run home to IM or text on the bus ride home. I was shocked when an ultra-conservative friend (a wild-child, by the way -- amazing how giving birth can make someone so hypocritical, or at the very least, manic) who was anti-phone for her daughter completely ditched her instincts the day her child entered middle school, just to save her little girl's rep. This woman did a 360 since she had learned from a neighbor that her son was essentially friendless for the first few months of middle school because he wasn't texting and was therefore, out of the mix.
Yikes. My fourth-grade daughter who is in the throes of this tech-talking time with her friends, considers my husband and me strict, since we haven't green-lighted the IMing yet (still investigating safest course and while there is one okay option for mac users called Adium, we are a PC family and there is not such a child-friendly system for us) and are adamant that the cell phone she can't live without just doesn't need to happen for a while. We can't imagine why she needs one (we've got a perfectly good land line -- two in fact -- and she's really never somewhere on her own). She, of the 9-going-on-19 view of life, can't imagine what the big deal is. She's even got the "perfect" model picked out.
This is what I'm thinking. If we have to embrace this tech age, email is the safest place to start. At least with the email, many systems offer a way to monitor who is speaking to our child and who she is speaking to. We actually ditched her Google account in favor of an account at Kids Safe Mail when her address book bulked up, where we can okay the mail servers from where messages come in as well as take advantage of other monitoring features. She moans about the non-Googleness of it all (chatting easily online with friends for one) but is surprisingly not giving us massive eye-roll treatment when we stand firm (hmmm, that doesn't seem normal as I write this... wonder how long that's going to last before the eyes start a rollin'.)
The IM thing (instant chat on the computer for those who are not so tech savvy) is a little more tricky to track. And as far as texting (basically IMing but from a cell phone) -- unless you're like a friend of mine, let's call her Pushy Penny, who does not get or does not care if she does get repercussions from grabbing the phone from her son to see what he's on about -- you're pretty much in the dark about what your offspring are dealing with. I know that plenty of the back and forth between these kids is pretty harmless. But some of the chatter and its ramifications are way over their heads. For example, even after the kids in my daughter's class were talking about a web woe that happened to a high school girl (she sent a naked photo of herself to a "friend" that then made it around the school in two seconds flat), and it was explained to them that the internet is instant and massive, not like note passing in class (do they still do that?), some girls still sent, albeit clad, photos of themselves to some friends. Scary stuff -- who knows where these could end up and looking like (anyone heard of Photoshop?).
I don't mean to sound paranoid, but aren't we supposed to be there to protect them -- not only from other people but from themselves too? We completely trust our daughter, she's given us every reason to (even though said eye-rolling incidents make me want to lock her in her room), but still there's a learning curve that can get pretty treacherous, especially when giving them unlimited access to a scary thing -- even if that scary thing is meant to do good.
Take for instance an article I recently read about the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina (APPCNC). In February they started the Birds and Bees Text Line for teens (in the North Carolina area only, although many centers in other cities and countries have reached out to the APPCNC to expand) to anonymously text any and all questions about sex. Within 24 hours one of eight trained adults, whose identity is also anonymous, texts back with an answer. Whether you agree with this concept or not (and as you can imagine there are strong opinions on both sides), there is no denying that the freedom to access with these devices is staggering. If there's a teenager out there totally confused, frightened, or just curious and doesn't have a willing parent to discuss questions or feelings with (for now, we're lucky that our kids talk to us -- even though it's typically when we've tucked them in to say goodnight that they become chatty), I think this text line is a great source that may prevent unnecessary or dangerous activity or to provide knowledge when ignorance can be deadly. Still, what I don't think is great is that it (or anything like it) is something my little girl can stumble upon.
Which is why, even if we eventually cave on the IMing since we can save chats to look at with her if necessary, we are definitely going to hold out on the phone. Sure, we could add a line to our current plan sans the texting, but come on now, you think that will float with our thinks-she's-a-teenager 9 year old (who by the way just came in to see if she could bump me off my computer to load some songs to her ipod)? I'm thinking a full-fledged phone has got the potential for a fifth grade graduation gift. Until then she can use email to keep up on her texting lingo because if she doesn't use it, she'll lose it... wishful thinking, I guess.
Follow Amy Nebens and Jara Negrin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PoshMom