I was in the sixth grade when I created my first email account — at the same time my parents created their first account. By early high school I was IMing with friends about tennis tryouts and boy crushes. In college, a roommate introduced me to a new online service that was trickling down from Ivy League campuses: Facebook.
Now I am the mother of young children whose imaginary play involves "going to the app store."
I am only 29 years old, but the technological landscape today looks absolutely nothing like it did the day I was born.
In an article for Slate Magazine, Amy Webb discussed what she calls "the broader impact of creating a generation of kids born into original digital sin."
Maybe this line stayed with me because "sin" is not a word I toss around lightly.
Or maybe it's because — as a product of the information age — I'm optimistic enough to believe in the benefits of my digital footprint (and to be untroubled by ads at the gas pump that are tailored to my spending).
Or maybe her projection of my "sin" struck me because I have guilt on my hands. My children's faces dot my Facebook page and enliven my blog. At this stage in my life, it's almost impossible to extract my story from theirs, and my online presence doesn't hide it.
Where Amy seems to spend her time shielding her child from the online spotlight, I am teaching myself how to use it.
Because the key to parenting in the digital age isn't keeping your child's face offline because of the threat of facial recognition software. It isn't making sensational, strangely naïve moves like registering your child's social media accounts before they're even born and linking them to a single email account that you control.
In fact, the key to parenting in the digital age isn't about your children at all. It's about you.
It is deciding that it's wiser to move with the game than to ignore its evolution.
It is downloading a grocery list app instead of — once again — losing your paper list well before you reach the cash register.
It is recapturing how it felt to reconnect by social media with an old teacher who influenced you.
It is landing a job you thought was just beyond reach, all because of a contact you made on LinkedIn.
It is watching your grandmother show her grandbabies to her dinner mates in a retirement facility — using an iPad and an Instagram feed.
As a parent, I want those experiences for my kids. But I know I won't be able to guide them if I don't know how to do it myself.
So no, I won't keep my kids out of the online spotlight. What I will do is ...
- Double check my Facebook privacy settings.
- Refrain from posting pictures of my house number or sharing when our family leaves on vacation.
- Turn off location settings on my phone so that people can't extract my location from photos I post.
- Be selective about friend and follower requests on my personal accounts.
- Consider putting a light watermark near my children's faces to deter photos on my blog from being used by someone else.
- Consult my children as they grow about what I share of them online.
- Never use social media to shame a child.
In a nutshell, I'll use common sense.
And one day, when my daughter wants to take over her online story, we'll speak the same language, because I haven't been hiding.
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