With an almost-12-year-old son, I am trying very hard to stay one step ahead, technologically speaking. I joined Facebook, started learning about Twitter, I text, and I read quite a bit about emerging tools on the web and in other media. That said, I’m still a bit terrified knowing that he will soon want to grow beyond the bounds of his email account, where he emails and chats with a few digitally connected friends and relatives, to join Facebook. Some of his friends are already on there, and while I don’t know if their parents have imposed any rules, I do know from what I am able to see – easily – that these kids have no sense of digital legacy. Their privacy settings are lax, which I know because I can see their conversations (and in some cases, their phone numbers) and in some cases what they say is profane, at best, and borders on vulgar (and is it naive to say maybe even a little shocking, given their tender ages?) at worst. I know that psychologically, humans (and not to be sexist, just a scientific fact, especially male humans) are unable to fully grasp the true meaning of actions and consequences until approximately the age of 25. Long before then, these kids will be applying for jobs, applying to college, and more…and what they’ve posted online is out in the cyberworld forever. FOREVER. You can try deleting accounts, deleting posts, etc. but the reality is that what you post when you are 11 years old can absolutely come back to haunt you when you are applying for a job, running for office, or just about anything you do. Can children possibly comprehend why this even matters when they still sit in an algebra classroom inquiring, “Why do we even neeeeeeeeed this? When will we ever uuuuuuuuse this?”
I will probably allow him to set up a Facebook page. But (call me overprotective, I can take it), I will be setting his privacy settings, I will require him to add me as a friend, and he will still have his computer in a public location in the house so I can look over his shoulder whenever he is on it. If he thinks I’m mean, so be it. Hopefully one day he’ll thank me for looking out for him when he was too young to understand the consequences of his digital actions.