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Our Kids and Electronic Gadgets

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

CBS ran a story this week on kids and technology. It is great to see that someone is paying attention to what is going on with our kids and I applaud that. Kudos to CBS.

Kids themselves told the interviewer that cyber-bullying occurs daily. Bullying has been around since the beginning of time, but, thanks to technology, it has taken on a new intensity. Kids can and are acting meaner than ever before. Why? Because kids will write things to each other that they would never say to another kid’s face. Black and white words feel anonymous. And there is another thing: Technology affords bullies more avenues through which to bully. There are cell phones, Facebook, MySpace, IM, Twitter, and more.

But bullying isn’t the only problem with technology and our kids. It is certainly a big one, but there are more. For example, kids text one another more frequently than they call. Is this a good thing? While communicating with friends is certainly positive, it is little more than black and white words. No smiles, tears or hugs. Texting comes without a voice or face attached. And the same is true with Facebook and MySpace.

“So what’s the big deal?” we parents wonder. “Technology is here to stay and we might as well get used to it.” I agree; it’s here to stay. But that doesn’t give us an excuse to hand our kids over to it. At least I will not let my patients get swallowed up by it without a fight. Teachers say that kids can’t write papers without using fragmented sentences or texting abbreviations. I had an AP English teacher from Chicago recently tell me that her students routinely use ‘BTW,’ ‘OMG’ or ‘LOL’ in their papers and they think this is acceptable.

Then there’s the issue of safety: Two young girls in my practice, one 13 and the other 14, were stalked by older men out of state. The men found both girls on MySpace, and the sad part was their parents had no idea what was on the girls’ MySpace pages. Both sets of parents cited the same reasons for staying in the dark: They wanted to respect their kids’ privacy and let them know they “trusted” them.

Aside from pornography, bullying, sexting, availing oneself to being viewed by stalkers, spending less time reading books or talking with siblings and parents, engaging in communication which is impersonal and isolating, forgetting how to spell correctly and having the opportunity to function in a world that is usually hidden from parents, I guess technology can be good for our kids.

Technology is here to stay, but let’s not be idiot parents. A few simple rules can make an enormous difference in our kids’ lives. Here are a few that I have found work for my patients:

1. No laptops before college (especially for boys- no teen boy can resist the temptation to gawk at naked women while alone with his laptop).

2. Have one family computer and keep it near the kitchen. Kids are far less likely to get involved in bad stuff while Dad is stirring a pot of spaghetti.

3. If you must buy your child a cell phone before junior high (high school is best), get the kind with prepaid minutes, no phones with unlimited texting and calling.

4. Insist on being friends on Facebook and have access to their MySpace pages. If they won’t agree to this, get rid of the computer.

These may sound tough to the average tech-savvy parent, but remember that kids are not adults; there is a lot they can’t handle. Even if kids are mature, their brains are not. Most 18-year-old boys do not have the cognitive maturity a parent does. So get wiser with your kids and do some restricting of the electronic gadgetry in your home. After all, the father in the White House does. Do our kids deserve less than his?

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