To Friend or not to Friend Your Child?

Let me be honest — I have no children. I only have memories of what my life was like as a teenager. Now that my disclaimer is out of the way…

With the emergence of Facebook as “the” social networking site for both youth and older adults, the arbitrary division between the world of young people (formerly MySpace or the internet in general) and their parents (formerly the tangible earth or AOL) is narrowing. We are witnessing the winnowing away of a different sort of digital divide. So what does this mean? It means that there are times where I notice my friends (the adult kind) are friends with their children on Facebook. Not friends as in “I am here watching you — be careful!” but friends as in “hey, let’s watch a movie tonight.”

I find this a little odd. Probably because I never had that sort of relationship with my parents, so it’s hard for me to understand how someone could small talk and just sort of hang out with theirs. But, from the couple of examples I see online, it seems to be working. But what do I know? I am not friends with that teenager’s friends and I don’t really see what else is going on on the walls of Facebook…

Which brings me to this blog on Plugged in Parent entitled Parental faux pas on Facebook. When I first read it, with its basic rules for parents on Facebook, I thought to myself, duh! What parent wouldn’t know not to avoid friending their friends (that’s just weird)? Don’t parents know not to comment on everything their child writes in their status update (that’s annoying)?

Then I realized that parents might NOT know those things. Why? Because they might not realize the basic nettiquette of Facebook and online interactions in general! I was lucky enough to become part of the online social scene relatively early (was on Friendster in the 90s, was IM’ing back then too with up to 10 windows open at once), so I need to remember that not everyone who is “old” like me understands the not-so-basic rules of the online world. They will become intuitive enough, but right now they are like those bizarre exceptions to the spelling rules you learned in grade school “i before e except after c…”

So thank you Plugged in Parent Sharon Miller Cindrich for sharing some of the basic rules so we can all live happily under the same URL.

Placing "sexting" in context

Salon puts a contemplative spin on the issue of “sexting” (the act of sending X-rated pictures electronically). It opens with the media-typical shock stories of young persons sending naked pictures of each other and then getting charged with child pornography. But, after the attention-getting scheme, it spends time deconstructing the issue more critically, posing some of the most difficult questions we need to consider:

1. Should people under 18 be charged with child pornography if they are willingly sending a picture of themselves to someone else who is happy to receive it? Does it matter if both parties are under 18 (or the legal age of consent in their state of residence), or should the age difference between the two be taken into consideration as in statutory rape?

2. Do the laws related to child pornography need to change given that the initial taking of the picture was likely not, in and of itself, a traumatic event? At this point, much of the argument against child pornography is that the experience of it being created is a traumatic event. This doesn’t seem to be the case in these situations…As Amy Adler, a law professor at New York University, states”Child porn law was founded on a very different vision of what the major threat was.”

3. Should someone under 18 be charged with possession of child pornography if they didn’t know they were going to get the picture of their naked classmate? This is a very likely scenario and, in my opinion, those who unknowingly find themselves in possession of illegal material are not likely to tell an adult about it if they fear being charged.

4. Is sexting creating a whole new way of sexual expression, or are teens simply repeating old ways of sexual expression, but immortalizing it using the technology? The author of the Salon article reminisces about standing in front of the mirror and mimicking “porn poses.” The big difference now, of course, is that the mirror is now a camera. And the implications are much bigger. But is the activity itself that different? Hard to say.

5. How much is our “porned culture” to blame? Should there be more media restrictions on Girls Gone Wild commercials, for example, or should free speech dominate as it has in the past?

These questions are critical to examine if we are going to progress on this issue. And including teens in on the conversations will help researchers, policy makers, and parents best understand how to handle this issue.

How cool is "That’s Not Cool?"

There’s a new website — That’s Not Cool — sponsored by The Family Violence Prevention Fun, Ad Council, and the Office on Violence Against Women. It features pretty humorous, but somewhat cheesy, videos about “digital boundaries” — cyberstalking, sending nude pics (sexting), and other issues related to romantic relationships going digital. I really like this term, and hope to see more of it as adults begin to appreciate this issue.

One feature, “Pressure Pic Problem,” features the dilemma an apple (yes, a piece of fruit) faces when his friends pear and banana want him to get his gal orange to send nekked pics of herself. It’s interactive, sort of like a choose your own adventure game, so you can see how different situations play out.

Then there is guest video “What if?” created by YouTube celeb Brandon Hardesty. It discusses the difficult question “who to turn to” when faced with such pressures. And when I checked it out, it already had over 66,000 views!

All the videos I watched were silly more than funny, making me wonder who they will appeal to (get it? Appeal? See Pressure Pic and you will appreciate my lovely pun…). But I guess if they get anyone’s attention it is a good start to the conversation about how to set limits on communication in an era where we expect instantaneous responses and to be able to be up-to-date on EVERYONE’S business at the click of a button.