Posts Tagged ‘ parenting ’

Digital Helicopter Parenting 101

Helicopter parenting: It’s one concept I firmly believe I avoid. Or at least I thought I did.

As a parent, I’m a big fan of promoting independence and attempt to foster situations that allow my sons to figure things out on their own as much as possible.

Right up until it comes to schoolwork. I blame this on the school as much as on myself. Now that parents and teachers have a much more direct and near instantaneous line of communication we, as parents, are expected to be far more involved with managing our kids day to day school work and study habits.

This all stems from a recent struggle we’ve had with Big Bit. Now in the 6th grade, the workload and expected responsibility level are intensifying. Teachers update grades and homework expectations online daily. It’s great in that I know immediately when my son skips an assignment. We have time for a course correction and at least partial credit.

It’s not so great when a teacher ninja posts a new project after school has released on a Friday afternoon.

So, there we are – helplessly staring in frustration at a small series of zeroes due to yet again, missing assignments – and we ask ourselves, “How do we help him be more responsible for this?” At this point, we’re all exhausted by the daily routine:

  1. Check his completed assignments to what’s listed in his agenda.
  2. Check each teacher’s website to confirm he’s actually written it down properly and that there are no ninja assignments.
  3. Have him complete the at least one inevitably missed assignment.
  4. Check the school’s website that has the posted grades to see what’s missing from previous days. They’re still always at least one. Have him complete that assignment too.

Rinse and repeat daily. Now, despite the zeroes and 50% grades from missing and late work he still has an even split of A’s and B’s for his cumulative grades.

Then it dawned on me. In 6th grade I missed homework. I didn’t have a teacher’s website to check; if I didn’t write it down in class I had to phone a friend or deal with the consequences. My grades slipped and I spent the next quarter grounded. Funny thing happened next, I improved.

In this case, all these wonderful tools are preventing my son from just dealing with the consequences of not keeping track of these things himself. It’s time for him to sink or swim on his own. Time for a skinned knee or two. He’s going to falter and fall down, but he’ll get up, grow and learn. And I just need to step aside and let it happen.

Good Time

Warm tears streaming down my face, my body shaking with sobs I drove away from my boys. I’d just dropped them off for two weeks of fun filled summer camp and the bittersweet moment was hitting me full force.

This was the very same summer camp I attended as a child. Completely unplugged from technology, sticky summer days were filled with horseback riding, swimming, tennis, roller skating and a myriad of other activities. I did a lot of growing up there. I learned how to share a cabin (and one bathroom!) with 11 other girls. I had my very first kiss there. I helped younger kids overcome their fear of horses and reaped the rewards of their love and admiration. I mucked stalls. I fell off horses far more often than I care to admit. Huge capture the flag games, watermelon seed spitting contests, dances – all these amazing happy memories.

Driving away, I couldn’t imagine how my parents did it. I was only leaving my boys 2 weeks, but every summer I begged to stay a full 8 weeks. My parents only caved once and every year after told me they missed me too much to let me stay the entire time. I never believed them until the moment I watched my two little boys shoo me away so they could begin their fun.

This year, the camp has a new feature. Every day they upload photos to a secure website and every evening I race home and faithfully stalk the new photos. It’s my new evening ritual, scouring the albums for my boys’ faces. Seeing these photos has helped me cope with leaving them. I can see the happy glow emanating from them.

This proud mama oohs and aahs over a photo of my Little Bit, confidently standing at the top of a zip line, ready to jump! A few days later I puzzle over which critter Big Bit has trapped with a net. I’m not a helicopter parent, but I treasure these glimpses into their daily lives while away. I’m thankful that technology helps connect me to them without intruding on their independence and fun.

Then one evening something unexpected came in the mail:

I lost it. These two simple words meant more to me than all the photos combined. Clearly Little Bit was too busy having his “good time” to do anything more than scratch out these two little words.

I love technology. I love how amazing it is at making distance meaningless. But, sometimes it’s the simple things that mean the most.


Deep down, I think all any of us really want is to connect to someone around us.  Albeit to varying degrees, we all want to have a sense of belonging, a sense of being understood, a sense of being cared for and a sense of being listened to. In return, we want to reciprocate and mirror these feelings to at least one other human being out there.

Recently I’ve been deeply touched by an outpouring of positivity on a newer project of mine. I’ve been organizing a group of people who want to come together and discuss how technology affects the modern family; both good and bad. What’s amazed, flattered and moved me isn’t just how many people were interested in the project. What has stood out the most is how many have thanked me for my efforts.

It is in that moment that I’ve realized how much this simple connection means to us. I know that many parents, children, teachers, relatives and mentors struggle with similar questions about how to integrate and prepare for this world that insists on evolving at light speed. There’s no right answer, but the discussion seems to be an important one for an increasing number of families.

With a simple idea, we reached around the planet and connected so many separate people questing for the same answers. Our problems, families and issues are all different but at the root of it all, we’re all intrinsically the same. No matter what type of tech question or challenge came up, I keep hearing the same solution: build a good foundation and be open to communication.

It’s such a basic human need. To understand and be understood, to love and be loved, to listen and be listened to…

…and sometimes it’s the internet that fulfills that need.

Through this electronic connection, I find so many communities and they all fill different roles for me. Facebook connects me to my close friends and family, Reddit fulfills my inner geek and need for debate. With Skype I maintain friendships face-to-face, even when they move away. And Google Plus gives me the chance to discover new people, both in text and through face-to-face communication.

These interwoven webs of people are driven by common ideas, regardless of location. The world begins to shrink.

The Luxury of Being Anti-Social

I don’t have that luxury.

Was my reply to Mom’s announcement she was considering closing her Facebook account. “Of course you do!” was her response.

On the surface, she’s not entirely wrong. I can absolutely close my account. It has not replaced my interactions with my friends and family, although sharing family photos would require some rejiggering on my part. But that wasn’t really what I was referencing.

At the time, my cousin’s teenage daughter was living with my parents. My mom really only used her Facebook account to monitor her activity, but because she wasn’t a regular user my mom did not have the tools to fully understand what my cousin’s daughter was doing. Over time, the Facebook activity became such a bone of contention between the two that my mom eventually banned her from Facebook.

As you may have guessed, this strategy wasn’t exactly successful.

I adore my mom. She’s incredible and I often call her Super Grammy. Although there is an alarming and growing trend of grandparents rearing children, to take on your niece’s teenage daughter is matter for sainthood. On top of that, she’s there 100% for me with my children as well. Vomiting kid? No problem, get your hiney to work and I’ll mop up. You’re sick? Let me bring you some soup. Need a night out? Send the kids over, I can handle it.

On top of that, my mom is incredibly intelligent and tech savvy. She was the one to teach me DOS and introduce me to computers. She’s still the only one at her house that can setup and program their entertainment centers. She was the first to adopt ebooks in our family and the first among us to use online banking and shopping.

So let me make this exceptionally clear. Her problem with Facebook isn’t lack of smarts, caring or knowledge – it is lack of use.

First, without regular usage, Super Grammy was unaware that you could disable posts, pictures and your wall from people you still had friended. She didn’t know that she wasn’t seeing a complete picture and she didn’t know how to limit or control it.

Second, it’s impossible to model good social networking behavior if you don’t use the services. Until you’ve made a few online blunders yourself, it’s difficult to anticipate the specific problems, bullying and arguments that can arise from these platforms.

With the increase in frictionless sharing and interconnectivity it’s imperative that I remain fluent in the digital biosphere.  I’ve made a few of my own blunders and I’m learning how to mentor and model best social networking practices.

Frictionless sharing is the single most irritating part of Facebook and what almost had me quit. As the Maid of Honor in one of my best friend’s weddings, I was using Pinterest to explore all facets of wedding planning. Although I’d disabled the app from posting to my Timeline it managed to sneak back. Multiple inquiries about my upcoming nuptials had me steaming.

A small mishap like that one could really translate into major problems for the novice user. Unfortunately, this technology is changing at a pace that even the most seasoned social networker has trouble staying afloat. I will simply be an ineffective instructor for my children if I don’t keep my account, actively use it and seek out the newest changes each and every time.

My children are still young and they haven’t yet begun with Facebook  but I certainly see it glinting at me over the horizon.

What are your thoughts? How do you manage your children’s online social networking? What’s worked? What hasn’t?

Internet Fail

Let me paint you a picture, because there is no evidence of this event:

As I guffawed heartily at her remark my merriment evaporated, immediately replaced by mortified embarrassment. I was an awkward, chubby, coke-bottle glassed 12 year old with red slushee spraying out my nose and mouth, all over the beautiful white dress of the “popular girl” in our class. She was one of those girls who was popular for being truly sweet-natured and an all around good person; while I, I was the resident shy, bookworm who frequently hid in my teacher’s room during lunch to avoid bullies.

I stared at her in horror and misery as I realized that we were surrounded by a cafeteria line full of laughing, cruel teens and that she would have to wear my red snot stained clothing for several hours yet. Shame and embarrassment followed us both for several days as the story spread and laughter accompanied us down the school halls. But, as the memory faded so did the teasing and embarrassment.

I shudder at the thought of experiencing this same event as a teenager today.

Today, there would immediately be several pics and perhaps a video, instantly uploaded and shared to the full extent of each witness’s social network. Today, photographic evidence would eternally follow our lives. This event, while relatively minor, was still an embarrassment and ultimately a learning experience (note to self: avoid fully belly laughs when your mouth is full) that passed in relative privacy. The incident was quickly forgotten and our lives moved forward.

Now though, teenagers and young adults are faced with challenges in filtering and self-restraint that many adults still struggle to control. The worst part is that they are incapable of truly understanding what long-term ramifications can result from the wrong item uploaded and shared.  These incidents are now public and permanent.

Failure is an inherent part of life, growth and the learning process. 

My example above is innocent, an uploaded pic would do little to damage my ability to attend my college of choice, alienate a relationship or diminish my chances at career advancement. I have done some very, very stupid things as a teenager. No, I’m not going to share them with you. They were failures that passed in relative privacy and I’m lucky enough that they will stay largely buried, forever enshrined in my head but no where else.

Today we are all living far more public lives. The advancement in digital media makes the creation and distribution of almost anything near instantaneous. How often have we hit that status update, shared that pic or sent that email and immediately regretted it? Now add in the impulsiveness of a 15 year old! Thoughtless pics, viral through a social network, can provide deeper fodder for bullies and the permanence of it all can have consequences impossible for the average teenager to even comprehend.

I’m saddened that my children will now have to learn to self-control and filtering at a much earlier age. Kids, by their very nature, need to make social blunders, mistakes and yes, fail, in order to figure out what kind of person they want to be. The fact that they can no longer do so privately robs them of something crucial. I wonder if our kids today will become 100% public, losing not only their own ability to filter, but also caring about others filters? Or will they retreat into private shells, housed by digital walls? How do I, as a parent, guide them?

Even now I consider the family videos I’ve uploaded to YouTube. I’ve got some great little clips of my son, dancing horribly. I even titled it, Blackmail Material For His First Girlfriend. I uploaded it so my family could stay in touch with the small moments that connect you to each other. At 5, he loves showing it to people and watching himself online. But I stop to think, how would I feel about a similar video of me? Do I teach him to have a thick skin and broadcast a public persona or do I restrict the viewing? He’s a little young to decide for himself if he’d like to have a public presence online. For the time being, I’ve changed the privacy settings. I’ll let him decide for himself when he’s a little older.

But, back to my point: today our youth can make some very profound missteps. Perhaps they have a wild moment, as many do, and it’s forever documented. For some of us, those wilder times were defining moments in our lives and today we are enriched and a better person for having learned some very hard, difficult lessons. But for us, the past is in the past. Our youth today, the past will forever be attached to them. They’re going to learn some much harder lessons at a much earlier age and for that, I am a little sad.

But, here’s a video I’m sure my son will enjoy:

Gadget Girl

I’m not quite sure when I became a gadget girl, but it smacked me full force upside my head when my ex-husband asked my opinion on the new Kindle Fire. Here’s the thing, he’s a professional computer technician and, while highly technologically literate, I have far less knowledge about all the computer guts that goes into these devices. But….somewhere, somehow I’ve transformed into one of those people that are now sought out for advice before making a purchase!

I’ve always been a clever girl, but I largely left the programming of all those gadgets to others. Hook up the surround sound stereo? Hoooooooney! Come do it for me! Virus on my computer? Drop it to my ex for repair and recovery. What phone to purchase? Last year I posed the question to Facebook and listened to the most reasonable, knowledgeable sounding person. But, after a torrid love affair with my Evo I found myself thirsty for more.

Before purchasing the tablet I’m now using to publish this very post, I poured over tech websites, read reviews, balanced my needs and desired features and decided by my very own little self exactly which gadget was right for me. And yes, I’m quite pleased with my decision. Even the purchase of this tablet had people requesting for me to post a review. Why and how did I suddenly become authoritative on these types of matters?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining….just flattered and slightly mystified at my own transformation. Ask my ex, he’ll tell you about every little fight we had about upgrading his phone. I never could understand why he had to have a new one when his old one still worked just fine. But, oh, do I get it now. When the iPad was announced I found the entire idea of tablet computing outrageous and unnecessary. Then again, ever a science fiction geek I probably should have realized my inner geek would eventually override it all. How could I resist a device so like the ones used by Wesley Crusher and Geordi La Forge in Star Trek?

My entire goal with this blog was too force myself to learn about gadgets, websites, blogging and technology so that I would know how to present it all to my children. I need to be “in the know” if I ever want a smidgeon of a chance at being able to use the technology to assist with parenting rather than be intimidated by flashing lights and unknown social networks. Looks like it might be working….if only a little bit.

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