Amon just turned eight. And he figures he's old enough to have his own Facebook page. I said 'no' not because I felt like I needed to assert my fast diminishing parental control, but because 1. kids could do with more real socializing before social networking and 2. the digital space is not where kids should be allowed to roam free without strong parental guidance.
I know two 11-year-old girls with Facebook profiles, under the guidance of their mums, of course. And they are just a handful of many kids out there below 13 (the minimum age as stipulated) that have Facebook profiles. They're both great kids - smart, sweet girls. And they know how to be sensible on the net. One of them doesn't even put her photo on her page. And I told her: "That's great. Keep it that way. Do you know what happened to this 11-year-old girl who got trolled?" She didn't. And I'm not surprised.
I posted this on my FB page some time ago, but here it is again for those who missed it. It's about how an 11-year-old got her life turned upside down on the net. (http://gawker.com/5589103/how-the-internet-beat-up-an-11+year+old-girl) Last thing I read about her, she was under police protection for death threats.
It's not funny. My kids...and yours...are growing up in a very different era, when connectivity is the norm and apart from grappling with the usual socialization of adolescence and teenage angst, they also have to deal with a whole different realm of existence we never had to - their cyber life. I consider myself pretty much an early adopter of technology and all things digital. I'm a gadget geek at heart -- from the Palm (remember that?) to the first iPod and every other new cell phone fad. I was one of those who embraced the dot.com wave (remember that?) but luckily had a regular job with a bricks-and-mortar (remember that term?) institution to go back to. But with my kids...I'm somewhat at a loss.
I believe in balance in my approach to everything in life. That's one of the fundamental bec2basics beliefs in my philosophical makeup. But it's tough walking the fine line between embracing the openness of this cyber world, and letting my kids do their growing up by trial and error, versus enforcing the filters and boundaries to ensure their safety. There is no right answer. I'm certainly not alone in this struggle.
I believe in being at the cutting edge of change and technology. But I also embrace 'old world' values. As much as I recognize that my kids belong to their generation, I would also like them to have a solid understanding and appreciation of mine, and those that came before me. I tried to hold off wii as long as I could. I caved last winter when we got snowed in for weeks. This summer, my kids were away from me for two weeks. When I saw them again, they had picked up the iPhone and iPad. On the 20+ hour flight back from Singapore, I caved and handed over my iPod touch with all the apps they like (yes, Cooking Mama is one of them) loaded via the wifi at the airport.
I don't believe in mollycoddling kids. But I believe in limits and boundaries. Otherwise I'm not doing them a favor in learning how to live as responsible adults. So 30 mins of wii each time; no wii on school days; 15 to 20 mins on the net for leisure (homework is online now, for parents whose kids are not in school yet); and 15 to 20 mins each time on the iPod/iPhone apps. Amon has an email add (on yahoo! not google) and a blog, but uses both under supervision of an adult (mostly me).
So far it's working out well. The kids understand the limits and they have a wide range of interests that aren't digital -- good ol' stuff like Legos and Trivial Pursuit, soccer and ballet. But I shouldn't count my chickens. In two years' time, the boundaries will shift. Maybe, even in a year's time.
It may sound like a cliche but the kids are really growing up much faster these days. I believe exposure to media and the cyber world has a lot to do with it. Does anyone remember having a concept of future time when they were four? Well, this is a conversation between my 4 and 8-year-olds.
Ariel: "I like makeup. But I think I'm a little young to use it."
Amon: "Right! You're too young. Maybe when you're 13."
Ariel: "I think when I'm 10."
I will always remember what my domestic helper said to me when that 4-year-old was born. She was holding the little raisin in her arms. She said: "She's beautiful, m'am. But you know, very soon she'll grow up. You'll look at them sleeping one day and wonder how come they're so long."
How right she was. And it didn't take long for that to happen. Dear kids, don't grow up so fast, will you?