The Internet is Not the Devil, You Are

I was at my kids' high school parents night and related startup (such a great way to spend a Friday evening, let me tell you), and this year my youngest starts freshman year. So it was a rehash of the income class orientation, a second round for me since my oldest is now a junior. In any case, after mulling through the introductions, the size of the incoming class and some blips about the history of the school, then they introduced a second new dean of student life. This guy didn't waste any time; he dove right into some survey statistics he measured about how 90 percent of the incoming kids in my youngest's class are fully engaged in social media and (wait for it), nine out of ten issues in his experience start online or happen online with high school students (hmm, funny, 9 out of 10 would be 90 percent, what a co-inkadink...). At this point comes the predictable mantra, "Parents, you need to know everything your kid is doing online, know who they are talking to, know what platform they are on and you should be monitoring their communications."


What fekkin' planet did you crawl out of?

Seriously, the last thing I would have wanted as a teenager is my parents having anything to do with whatever I was talking about with my friends. I sure as hell wouldn't want my parents knowing my accounts and online forums if I was a teen now.

Now, for my personal situation, I'm not that worried about the activity online. That's because I use the honest truth of my capabilities with tech, and I've shown my kids both how tools can be used as well as what happens when things go bad. I've also taught them how social media works, particularly the intentional rabbit holes many of the big platforms like to use to generate more traffic. My kids really didn't like knowing how they were being manipulated by Twitter and YouTube in that respect. Of course, what really got their attention was what I could see if I decided to turn on a network sniffer like Wireshark on my home router. Everything they typed and transmitted as well as read was visible on the traffic capture screen. oops. So, with a bit of visuals, things have been, for the most part, livable. But, clearly, that's not what an average parent does.

In fact, most parents today are just like how my parents were, clueless about how things actually work. Then some school authority idiot comes along, yells "fire" in a crowded theater, and the fireworks start going off at home with kids suddenly putting up their defenses to parents wanting to clumsily snoop, and it goes bad from there. Do you think that school official is offering to mediate those screaming discussions? Oh, hell no.

As a parent speaking to parents, get off your digital butt and learn how to use network tools. If you don't know, then find out. There are a ton of free classes online covering everything from basic Wi-Fi and network architecture to Cisco router management and data-sniffing. Seriously, it's to your advantage to know this stuff. It affects you personally as well. Think about it, do you know how people look at your emails and data at work? Are you aware of how your logins are tracked every time you connect and from where?

 I tend to focus on online behavior with my kids instead of trying to ban them from things or watch every contact they make online. Instead, I reinforce basics I know they are going to need in modern life. Some examples are:

  • Don't put anything online you don't want thrown in your face a few years later, and that includes dumb arse forum statements and images.
  • Don't let other people take images of you and put them online.
  • Look your name up in search engines regularly to see what's out there about you.
  • If you can see what you're doing on a browser, I can see it on your network.
  • Learn from others who made digital mistakes and don't do the same thing.
  • If you're not sure about something, check it out first with search engine online and look for complaints or concern-posting.
  • Never, ever, ever share your accounts with anyone.

So far, my kids have avoided most of the online drama that starts at age 12 or 13, they don't have extensive online libraries with their names attached, they haven't yet put up any stupid images of themselves, and they've already seen their friends go down in flaming aerial fires with dramatic online dumb moves. Does that mean they are perfect? Oh hell, no. It's just a matter of time before they both do get burned on something. What I'm really focused on as a parent is damage control and resilience for them.

At the end of day, that training they get before learning it themselves in the big digital world boils down to one thing, how much I get involved and learn myself before they learn it the hard way. I've only got a few years left before they are both adults and on their own at that point. I hope to make the most of it and help prevent some nasty digital goofs for them. But doing nothing and passively expecting some high school official to tell me what to look for with their Internet usage is a bit like letting a guy with gun painted up like a smiling clown usher you into a movie theater. It's a really bad idea.

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A professional freelance writer for the last 20 years and a budding photographer by hobby.

The Intersect of Crypto Musings & Consumer Impacts
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