Tweens in (Cyber)-Space

Finding Your way through the Internet A Step Ahead of Your Tween

I wrote this article for the Early Spring issue of Mi Child Magazine. You can find Mi Child locally in Michiana, or online here

Parents of tweens everywhere are all trying frantically to draw boundaries, set limits, and stay one step ahead of all things cyber-space. We are truly the first generation to deal with the ins and outs of Stardoll, Wizard 101 and Webkinz. Xbox, Facebook and Twitter. IPods, iTouches and iPhones. There are hundreds and thousands of games and applications tweens can download on an iTouch or a home computer. Online gaming and social media are here to stay, and we have to be smart about the online communities we allow our tweens to be a part of.

A New World For Us-Not For Them

Christmas Break 2009 007

We, as parents of kids in the techno age are doomed to be passed up by our techno-savvy kids, unless we intentionally keep one step ahead of them. We are learning techno stuff as we go. Our children have been born and raised with techno-brains. It is in their hard-wiring. We parents are immersing ourselves in a new culture and a new land, learning the language, learning to find our way around. Our tweens have been born there. Techno is their lingo, and they know all of the in’s and out’s, up’s and the down’s of the internet like the back of their little tweeny, computer savvy hands.

Where do we draw the line with our children’s online presence?

Here is a conversation that has been had at our house between me and my two tweens on several occasions:

Tween: Mom, can I have a Facebook account?

Me: No

Tween: Please? Every one of my friends has one.

Me: No. The Facebook rule says you need to be 13. You’re not 13.

One day later

Tween: Mom, can I have a Facebook page?

Me: No

Tween: Why not?

Me: You’re still not 13.

Just about every tween parent I know has had endless conversations with their tween about this issue. In our house, we follow the Facebook guideline which says you have to be 13 to have an account.

It’s been easy for us to set the Facebook rule, since there is already a restriction in place. Unfortunately, there are endless other technologies and media that our girls use every day without a specific age limit. These demand our constant monitoring and attention.

There are way too many variables for us to not jump in and keep an eye on what our kids are doing online. The dangers our tweens face online are the same they face in the real world. Chances are you wouldn’t leave a 10-12 year old to find their way around some unknown crowded public place for the day without your help or adult supervision. Your presence is usually required to keep them safe wherever they go. Same goes for all things online.

A Close Call

A friend shared this story with me about her daughter’s very scary experience using her Nintendo DSI– A man befriended her daughter through comments he left on pictures the child made, and began to make her think he was her boyfriend. Thankfully, her parents were alerted by the daughter’s obsession with this particular game, and took action. They were able to get on her account and find a very disturbing string of conversation between the daughter and this man. They disabled the internet signal on her DSI, and “ruined her life forever.” Thankfully, these parents were on top of the situation and noticed these changes in her behavior. They were one step ahead of her, probably saving her from a world of hurt.

I spoke with another Mom about this story, and she admitted she had no idea her child could gain access to the internet on their Nintendo DSI. That made me cringe.

Since we are all learning about this new world together, I thought I’d share some safety tips we’ve picked up over the past few years.

Map Out Their World

Just like when you’d take your child to a new place, map out the internet for them. Give guidelines and tell them where the safe places are and are not. If you feel like your child is a step ahead of you in their knowledge of online places and spaces, maybe it’s time for them to have accessed revoked until Mom and Dad can catch up again.

Go there With Them

Let your tween take you on a tour of where they like to go online. Play their games with them. Get better at their games than they are! This will not only benefit your relationship with them, but give you an insight into their world as well.

Make Your Presence Known

If your tween does have a Facebook page or Twitter account, let their friends, or potentially dangerous people know that you are around. Comment on their friends’ responses to your child, just to let them know there is an adult presence. You wouldn’t let a bunch of tweens attend a party with no adult supervision. Same goes for the online world.

Remember That You Are In Charge

Even if it means, “Ruining their lives forever”, you are the parent, and if something just does not sit right with you, take charge of the situation and do what needs to be done to keep your child safe.

Can you be at all places at all times with your tween? Nope. There are definitely times as they grow older that you will loosen your grasp and let them experience life with less restrictions. Tweens may be techno-savvy, but we are kid-savvy. We’ve been their parents since they were sucking on the remote control and their whole techno-world was just beginning.

11 thoughts on “Tweens in (Cyber)-Space

  • March 1, 2011 at 12:47 pm
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    thanks Michelle! It is a constant war we wage as parents not against our kids (as they might think) but against the enemy of their souls! Vigilance and diligence are so key!

    Reply
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  • March 1, 2011 at 1:54 pm
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    I really enjoyed this article! I’m a community manager for a social networking site for tweens, so I see how these issues come into play every day. I’d love to get in touch with you about our site & get your feedback as a parent.

    Reply
  • March 2, 2011 at 7:44 am
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    Really good article, thanks for sharing this. I have had the exact same Facebook conversation with my daughter. And now that she is 13 I still won’t let her join FB. And yes, she thinks I am evil.

    What is your feeling about key logging? I am a software developer and developed an application (not for sale, just for my own use) that captures everything my daughter types and sends it to a file on my computer. I can check it every so often and get an idea of what she is up to. So far she is behaving and it is actually quite boring to read the transcripts. That’s Good! 🙂

    But I struggle with my conscience with this. Am I going too far? I feel like I am spying, but feel that it’s my job to know exactly what she is up to. I would love to hear your thoughts and the thoughts of your readers about this.

    Thanks again.

    Reply
    • March 2, 2011 at 8:01 am
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      Doug,
      I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, although I am sure many tweens and parents would disagree. We have made it clear to our girls that there are no secrets at our house. We don’t keep secrets from them, and they don’t keep them from us. I think it’s a healthy thing for your daughter to know that you are keeping an eye on her. I also think it’s a good thing that you said you check it “once in awhile”. I think the biggest lesson we have tried to teach our kids is that they earn our trust. I am hoping that in a year from now, I won’t have to field all their texts emails because they will have a better understanding of what is acceptable, etc. In other words, GOOD JOB! Stalk away 🙂

      Reply
      • March 2, 2011 at 8:32 am
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        Great advice! I think that’s what I will do. I will let her know that I “check up on her.” And she has earned my trust. I don’t read the transcriptions nearly as often as I used to. She built up my trust over time.

        Your post is great because so many parents do not have the slightest idea as to what their kids are up to online. Wake up people! Your kids could be getting into some scary stuff if they are unsupervised.

        Reply
  • March 2, 2011 at 10:00 pm
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    Great post, Michelle. I really appreciated the list of practical ideas and tips, too, as we begin to process navigating that world at our house, too.

    Reply
  • March 4, 2011 at 11:46 pm
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    Good words! As my kids are now a bit older & we’ve negotiated the online stuff for a few yrs now, here are a couple more…

    Facebook isn’t ‘evil’–let them know you have their password, become their friend & keep an eye on them those 2 ways. Don’t post on their wall or comment to them (they don’t even have to know when you’re checking!) unless they’re ok with that.
    If you don’t already know, learn how to see the history of sites they’ve been on and how to check the ‘cookies’ also–that will show not only what websites, but also lists facebook profiles/pics they’ve accessed.

    Open & honest conversations are always the best route, expect (and accept) some tween/teen conversations to occur between them & their friends. Teaching them is definitely better than simply sheltering them!

    Reply

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