When it comes to the Internet, the kids are fearless and the parents are clueless.
This is the first technology in human history where the children are leading the adults. During the agrarian age, we taught our kids to plant, to weed, to nurture and to harvest. At the dawn of the Industrial Age, we brought our kids into the factories and created apprenticeships to patiently teach them, over time, the skills they would need to succeed in this brave new world. In my lifetime, my father taught me how to use a manual typewriter and showed me the basics of how to operate a car.
Now, when you bring a big box home from Best Buy, you seek out a 14-year-old boy to help connect, configure and operate the latest PC, TV, PDA or techno-gizmo you've purchased. Not only do the kids have greater digital literacy -- the knowledge and ability to manipulate the technology -- they instinctively know where to go, what to do and how to do the things you do in the wild world of Web 2.0. And they are leaving their parents in the dust.
So how do we parent, provide guidance, set rules and create sanctions when we are so ignorant of this new medium that appears to be taking over our kids' lives?
Firstly, we must not abdicate our responsibilities as parents to provide protection and to set up boundaries for our tech-savvy kids. While it may well be true that our children have greater knowledge and experience of social networking sites, instant messaging language or file sharing, we have (or should have) greater life experience, discernment and judgment to assess potential danger, harm or deception that often lurks in the darker corners of the Web.
We must not simply give our little darlings the latest Web-enabled laptop avec Web cam, place it in their bedroom and walk out of the door. Too often, harried parents give into the pleadings of their offspring out of guilt or a sense that their kids will be at a disadvantage if they are not supplied with the very latest technology. Our children are adept at making the case that everyone at school has an e-mail/MySpace/IM account. It is very difficult to know what to allow and at what age, particularly when you have only a vague handle on what it is they are talking about. And the knowledge disadvantage inverts the traditional adult/child relationship. When you have to ask your nine-year-old exactly what Club Penguins is, the power shifts ever so subtly in the opposite direction.
We, the caregivers, who are less traveled and are more like tourists to our commuter-like children, will simply have to explore this online world more and get over our fears of its strange meeting places and confusing language. We will have to be humble enough to allow our children to show-and-tell us what and where they are going and what they are doing. Then we will have to be strong enough to impart our values, our rules and enforce sanctions when things or our kids go wrong.
We must accept our responsibilities as adults, even if we feel we are on shaky or unfamiliar ground. If we walk away, ignore or resign our roles as parents, we do our kids a huge disfavor. Call it tough love, Parenting 2.0 or whatever, we must take our job seriously and use a combination of filtering and monitoring tools for the younger kids and house rules for the older ones to keep them safe and pointed towards the good stuff on the Net.