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I'm a Parent or a Tech Guy, but I'm Not Prepared to Be Both

I was raised in the '80s and '90s. I could program the VCR, so I was a tech genius compared to my parents. I am still a social media whiz compared to some of my peers. But, I am no longer on the cutting edge.
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I needed help. A few weekends ago, I realized my 11-year-old daughter has friends with parents who don't care what their child does online. Because of this, I discovered a Twitter and Instagram account maintained by other children at my daughter's middle school.

If you can imagine all of the things you never want said about your child, or maybe even would want your child to think, much less say, then you will understand the gist of the Twitter stream. The Instagram was dedicated to mocking girls around my daughter's age as they struggled with puberty. Not only did it prove the old adage that children can be cruel, but the amount of adult topics discussed by 11-year-olds almost convinced me that an "abstinence only" policy was the best. I came back to reality, but not before a lot of cringing and wondering if homeschooling on a deserted island was not the best option.

I was raised in the '80s and '90s. I could program the VCR, so I was a tech genius compared to my parents. I am still a social media whiz compared to some of my peers. But, I am no longer on the cutting edge. Rather, I am slow to pick up new social media trends and have found myself needing my daughter's help in understanding "just what the heck these kids are talking about."

Luckily, I know a tech whiz who is young enough to be on the cutting edge of it.

Mason Schramm attends my local United Methodist Church. Since this subject has been recently broached in my household, I wanted to dig just a bit deeper. Mason is helping me do just that and because he's been helpful, I wanted to share. This is an interview I recently did for my blog.

1. Mason, thank you for this interview. Tell us something about yourself.

I am not a parent, but I am an educator by background. I volunteer with kids and youth. My passion for helping parents protect their kids is a means for me to combine my passion for teaching with knowledge I gain through my career in technology management.

2. What draws you to helping parents deal with the rise of technology?

I have always had a passion for education. One of the best ways I found to incorporate teaching into my career in Technology Management Consulting was to educate parents about the pitfalls of technology use among adolescents. One of my favorite quotes to pass on to parents comes from Sun Tzu in the Art of War: "If I know myself, and I know the enemy, I need not fear the outcome of 100 battles." When it comes to technology safety, parents are fighting against a rapidly changing enemy. I want to help parents with this fight.

3. Give us some ideas on what you want parents to know about technology.

First and foremost, I want parents to understand that technology is not dangerous in its own right and that technology is not going away. Therefore, parents need to be proactive, not reactive, when it comes to teaching kids about proper technology use and possible dangers of technology.

Second, when it comes to technology, the next big thing is always right around the corner. How are parents supposed to keep up? Just like any danger of raising children (drugs, alcohol, strangers, etc., ), effective communication and teaching at an early age is the best deterrent.

Third, great tools exist to help parents protect kids. However, these tools are often less advertised because they don't have the financial backing as many of the more popular and more dangerous products have at their disposal.

4. What is the most frightening thing you see in this area today? What are some tips you would offer on defending against this?

The most frightening things I see or hear about when talking with parents or reading in publications related to digital safety stem from human growth and development theories. Typically, humans do not develop higher order thinking skill until their 20s. Therefore, behavior exhibited by children during their formative years and into early adulthood is linked to concrete thinking. Logical and rational decision-making is difficult for the majority of kids. Applying this concept to technology results in poor decisions being made that have much greater ramifications than kids have the ability to realize at the time.

Technology allows for the rapid transfer of data across the Internet. It is simple and fast. When social media is added to the mix, which allows both friends and complete strangers to interact, data transfer can be devastating. For example, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and others all allow users to send photos and text back and forth. This is great for keeping track of old friends, posting fun pictures from your life and communicating with peers. Once the information is sent to the other person, the creator of the information has no control of what happens next.

I have heard of many instances of teenager girls sending photos of themselves to somebody that was impersonating a friend or acquaintance. These photos that were intended to be private between two people were then uploaded to various websites with less than pure intentions. The girl's pictures are now forever in an online database of some kind. The legality of this is not in question, but the enforceability is far more difficult.

Parents can help prevent situations like this from happening by teaching kids that anything you put on the Internet is there forever. It may not be easily found, but it is never full destroyed.

5. Do parental controls actually work? What's the future here?

Parental controls are like old rickety fences. They provide some protection, but it is not too hard to break through. Kids are smart, inquisitive and have a natural affinity for technology. Kids will find ways to outsmart the parental controls. It is much like the fight parents have against alcohol. If a kid really wants to find a way to drink alcohol, they will do it. The only real parental controls are the parents. Tools exist to help parents, but they are just tools. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the future for improved parental controls does not seem to be any more effective than it is currently. Investing in improved controls to keep up against new threats is costly and always behind schedule.

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