Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Thought for Parents

Growing up, I had very few friends that my parents did not know at least something about. My friends were always welcomed at my home by my parents; it took me a little while to realize that they were so welcomed because my parents were interested not only in being nice people, but also in being certain that I was hanging out with decent kids. Throughout the years, my parents developed a sort of mental file about my friends that to this day still amazes me. Further, I believe that there must have been a network of parents that talked regularly to ensure that information was conveyed properly from one household to the next because my parents were often telling me the latest high school news before I was even aware. In some instances news of my happenings would beat me home.

Even before high school, my parents were keeping a close eye on me. As a matter of fact, I can even remember attending a sleep-over party in elementary school where someone had the bright idea of throwing water balloons at a passing motorist. The passerby, unbeknownst to us, was drunk. As the water balloon burst on his window, the car screeched to a halt, backed up and turned into the driveway of the home where we were spending the night. The driver proceeded to have an altercation with the father of my friend whose birthday we were celebrating. Needless to say, after that the party was scaled down.

This event took place sometime after dark and then we went to bed. Amazingly, when my mom came to pick me up the next morning (she had to drive there, we did not live in the same neighborhood or anything), she questioned me about the incident with the water balloons during the previous night. I was shocked, how did she know? To this day, I have no idea how my mom and dad found out about the water balloon incident on that night, but I am thankful that they cared enough to find out about that incident and many others during my adolescent years. I am also thankful that my parents cared enough to restrict my future visits to that home.

I say all of that to point out that my parents cared enough to ask questions and to keep asking questions (from whomever they deemed necessary) until they found the answers they needed to ensure my safety and my solid upbringing. I do not remember always being excited about the prodding and subsequent discipline when necessary. I hated when my parents would question the character of my friends and I despised the times when I was told that I could not spend time with certain people. Looking back at those years now, however, I am eternally grateful that my parents cared enough to work hard at raising me and my brother because their hard work then has spared years of heartache that could have followed later.

Looking at the work that it took my parents to know my friends, it seems as though they were presented with a huge task. Unfortunately for parents today, the task has continued to grow. It has grown because students of today are not satisfied merely with having friends at school and in the neighborhood; the social network of most students has begun to extend beyond their immediate surroundings and social circles through the use of the internet and a variety of virtual communities that have sprung up seemingly overnight. For students this is reality and community, but for parents this is a frightening new world of which they have little if any knowledge.

Frightening as it may seem, however, statistics show us that teenagers are engaging in online communities at an alarming rate. According to an article found in the Pew Internet & American Life Project Report, a whopping 87% of teens are classified as “online.” That number is up 24% from just four years ago. Teens are taking over the internet and are making their voices heard., which sold for 580 million dollars in 2005, is made up primarily of teens. Its popularity grows seemingly exponentially, with membership around 10 million in January of 2005; it had quadrupled to more than 40 million members late in the same year. MySpace was so popular that in 2005 it was responsible for 15% of all internet hits in October of 2005 and in that same time period more than 20 million members clicked on.[1] It is time for parents to become as proactive about their teenagers’ cyber life as they are about their everyday life that parents are used to seeing.

I think much of the problem with teens and the internet can be summed up by the comment I received from one parent: “look, if its about the computer, I just have to trust them because I just do not understand it.” My response to this parent was, “you no longer have that privilege.” Parents teach their kids safe driving habits by driving with them and teach them responsibility by checking behind them to be sure that rooms are clean and homework is done. No one expects that a 14 year old does everything he or she is supposed to do, that is why parents, teachers, coaches, and other student leaders hold them accountable for their actions and follow behind them to be certain that they have completed their tasks.

I know that my suggestion for parents to become more proactive in the online lives of their teens is a bit presumptive. After all, I grew up in the technology age, I saw the birth and boom of instant messaging and email and was able to be a part of a college age that was just beginning to appreciate high speed internet everywhere. Most parents are not as fortunate. Those in the 40 years and up age bracket did not have the opportunities of readily accessible personal computer and of course the internet was not even thought of as they came through school. The suggestion of learning the internet and becoming technology savvy is a frightening and daunting task for many parents, but it is a task that must be tackled.

I do not imagine that parents of yesteryear had an easy time trying to understand the habits and actions of their children and of their friends. However, one thing is true, good parents took the steps necessary to ensure the safety and quality of rearing for the children they loved by being actively involved in their lives. The same thing must be true for parents of today. As parents today love their children and seek to raise them right, they must be actively involved in a multi-faceted approach. Teenagers often exist in multiple worlds at one time, “Oprey calls it multi-tasking,” was the quote from Sweet Home Alabama. Whatever its called, parents must be ready, willing, and able to contend with students who can watch TV, listen to music, do homework, talk on the cell phone, and chat simultaneously with an untold number of friends through IM, MySpace, and email.

In other words parents, attending the football games, band competitions, and dance recitals are vitally important and must be done, but that must be only a part of interaction with kids. Parents must take an active role by being interested in and understanding (at least to some degree) the things in which kids are involved. But fear not, because for those of you afraid of technology and concerned about understanding your kids, there is at least one bright spot. The light at the end of the tunnel is that knowing your children and their activities better does not have to be a new aged idea, in fact getting to know your kids can start old fashioned. Spending time with your kids is the best way


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