Let me start by saying I am a fan of technology. A big fan. I'm happy that my kids are in some ways more fluent than I am when it comes to tech. I like that that my son can change the settings on my iPhone faster than I can search on Google and that my daughter can navigate our complicated remote with ease. It gives me faith that they will be prepared and innovators in an ever tech heavy world. And yes, they are privileged to have these devices, but I love their iTouches and that they can FaceTime with grandparents in England, discover new music, do educational games, and yes, even entertain themselves sometimes.
But KIKing. Kiking is killing me.
For those of you who don't know, KIK messenger is a free texting service that crosses platforms (iTouch, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, you name it) allowing anyone to communicate in a chat, or group chat, even without mobile cell service. While I applaud the app's ability (and there are many others like it), I don't think they intended the effects it would have.
As a trend forecaster, it was interesting to watch the KIK trend spread in my own house. In less then a year it went from my 10-year-old son and two or three of his friends occasionally "Kiking" each other to say hi or pass along news, to an explosion among not only his, but my eight-year-old daughters friends. Suddenly KIKing had new meaning, with the ping of a new message arriving at every hour of the day -- and night. Kids raced to see who had kiked them and formed multiple user chats with some "In" and others "out". On the positive side, new friendships were formed, as I saw my son reach out beyond his "inner circle" and talk to kids he spends less time with at school. Yet, parents who thought their kids were safely asleep in bed were KIKING with abandon (mine, Im sorry to say, included). And while some brave parents deleted the app, the rest of us stood by wondering what to do.
I attended a powerful seminar by Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl, at The Marlborough School. She talked about the addiction to texting, and how teen and preteen girls took each text as a sign of validation. Each text or like or message made them feel "worthy." And after awhile, they couldn't function without the constant feedback.
So time limits were imposed. Devices were confiscated at bedtime and not released until homework was done the next night. But the KIK's were still there, in the background, with my children having as many messages to return when they logged on as I do after a sick day and a constant sense that everyone was kicking without them.
The pleas of my children were just as Rachel Simmons predicted. My daughter claimed that she was going to be left out of her groups of friends if not let on. My son argued that kiking was more efficient as it took less time then on the phone and he preferred to KIK then talk.
And the Kiking continued.
I made the rules more stringent, which only gave me the title of "Meanest Mom in the World" at home. But I still didn't delete the app, and still felt paralyzed.
It was only after attending an enlightening panel at The Center For Early Education hosted by Common Sense Media http://www.commonsensemedia.org/ that I figured out what to do. The panel was comprised of Attorney General Kamala Harris, Jim Steyer, founder of the online advocacy group Common Sense Media, Mandeep Singh Dhillon, creator of a social network for children and parents called Togetherville; and moderated by Willow Bay, (among other impressive credentials), the Huffington Post senior editor. Mind you no one mentioned KIK. Texting barely came up. The panel focused on privacy, legislation, and some strategies. And each of the panelists made strong points. But the one I took away most was made by Willow Bay, who was moderating, not even a said "expert", but also a mom.
Her point was this. Reach out to the to the parents. Help monitor each other. Make rules that everyone follows. You are a community. Attorney General Kamala Harris had made a similar point earlier in the evening about everyone leaning out their windows to see what the kids were up to. The watchful "elders" helped keep everyone in line.
Simple. I know.
But for whatever reason, while the parents had been talking about clothing, or activities or grades, few of us had talked to each other about this. Perhaps we were all embarrassed. Perhaps we didn't want to seem like the "uncool" parent. Perhaps every other kids' usage seemed more flagrant than our own. Whatever the reason, it was a missed opportunity. By talking to each other we were quickly able to get a handle on what other parents were seeing (my child it seemed, had been on KIK at 10:30pm one night when I was out of town!), and get a better sense of other parents' levels of concern, or lack thereof. Suddenly we felt more empowered to tell the kids that each parent was checking, (so, ahem, things like 10:30pm KIKS would not go unnoticed). In practically one day the rules became more consistent among us all. And as we know, children like rules and limits. The uncensored KIKing made them all feel a manic need to connect. Now that there were concerned and watchful parent's eyes on either side, the pressure was more to take time off then to constantly text.
Now, I know some of you would say that's unnecessary, that you should make your own rules, and that's what your family does. And I agree... BUT this tidal wave of tech-pressure is sometimes easier fought as a group. And while I want my daughter to have the internal reserves to not worry if she is left out of a conversation (as there will be more to follow), it is also nice to know that she doesn't need to feel there is an entire social life going on that she is not part of.
Don't get me wrong there are many good reasons for exposing your kids to technology and reasons to limit it. And when it comes to taking on the tough tasks, perhaps it really does take a village -- even if it is a virtual one.
I'd love your feedback, just don't Kik me.
Follow Jane Buckingham on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jane_buckingham