First of all, a confession. I am a shoemaker and my children have no shoes.
I’ve been working in the Internet since 1996, but my daughter, at 11, is clearly the last one in her class to get an email. Opening that Pandora’s Box is something that I push off month to month, day to day, hour to hour. Now, at long last, a teacher is requiring that all six graders have an email. It’s almost Halloween and we have not yet bowed down to the edict.
If you’re scared of email for your kids, there are surprisingly few resources. If you want them to play more games, there are a million walled gardens all willing to take your money. There are lots of filters for internet use, Net Nanny and Apple’s built-in parental controls among them. And, there are plenty of kiddy email sites that allow your infant a happy place to click on lots of letters without messing up the computer too much, and these progress up to age 8, 9, or maybe 10. But if you have waited until your daughter is almost 12 to give her an email, she will cry, as mine did, when you suggest she go to a site called Zilladog to access her email.
So, it’s a sorry state, but we’ll likely get her a Gmail account and monitor it ourselves until she is a bit older. I’m not overjoyed by this, but my baby is growing up.
Still, there are some parental tasks left to do, and first among them is choosing a screen name. There is nothing I could find online on this, except for one thin forum post on choosing a screen name. So here is what I’ve come up with as a guideline for my daughter:
1. No real names. She can use a nickname or some random word, but nothing that identifies her personally.
2. No ID that she’s a girl. So no email@example.com. This doesn’t surprise her at all for some reason and I’m happy I don’t have to explain why I’m being careful.
3. No years, like her birth year or the current year so that she isn’t marked by a certain era. Plus adding 123 after your chosen name is so AOL circa 1999.
Unfortunately, with over 2 billion internet users (Nielsen March 2011) and who knows how many on gmail, almost any combo of words is already taken until you get into phrases that are out of common usage.
Still, the rules are in place and we may have to keep searching a bit together. Otherwise, she can start using her new email : firstname.lastname@example.org as early as tonight.
I’m not naive enough to think privacy is at all possible these days, and the government definitely can identify almost all of us using facial recognition. I’d just as soon though, that not every Tom, Dick, and Larry is able to identify me and my family.
If you haven’t seen it yet, Facebook’s new facial-recognition software is a crafty feature. Pass a cursor over a photo that you just uploaded to Facebook and, voila, the person’s name pops up like magic.
I just had a good talk with Vincent DiCaro at the Fatherhood Initiative. They work to support involved dads and motivating others to be the best dads they can be. They are honoring military dads with a Military Dad Award. Please take a look if you know a military dad who deserves an added honor as a dad.
Along with all the costs of war, we also don’t talk much about the effect on families, kids and dads (and moms). Being a dad has many challenges, but I am grateful that one of mine is not trying to stay in touch with my family while dodging bullets. Our friend, Armin Brott, a former Marine, recently wrote a book on The Military Father to help dads and military families prepare for a deployment and manage the situation as best they can. The Fatherhood Initiative also has materials to help military dads.
There is a very thought provoking study out of internet security firm AVG showing what we all know to be true. Kids’ names, images, and history are going up on the internet, and forever public long before they can approve of it:
- 34% of children have their sonograms uploaded to the internet
- The average age at which a child acquires an online presence is six months
- By the age of two, 92% of children in the U.S. have some sort of digital footprint
While, of course, the survey is a tad self-serving since AVG is in this business, the results are interesting if only because they force you to pause a minute and realize how early in our lives (pre-birth) we are online. Check out the results of the digital footprint study of 2200 mothers from September 2010.
I was with my sister-in-law over the weekend. She works in a large high school as an assistant principal. She always has anecdotes to tell about the stresses of modern teens and the trouble they get into. Since my kids are only six and ten, most of these are just cautionary tales, but more and more, the advice is hitting closer to home. This weekend, we talked about Facebook and how much trouble kids get into on-line without being aware of it. They post sexy photos, get involved with predators, and say things they may wish they could erase in five years. Her advice to parents: Don’t let your kids have a Facebook account. Easier said than done, but good advice if you can heed it from someone cleaning up the aftermath.
At the same time, you’re worrying about your kids, you may not even realize the problems you’re creating for yourself by updating your Facebook account, and using it to enter comments and join groups as a login mechanism even when you’re not on FB.If you’ve seen the movie,
The Social Network, you know that Facebook once had a choice to be private à la MySpace, or to be completely naked on the streetcorner, as in a nudist colony where open secrets are part of the game. The market chose the Facebook model, even if no one really understood what that entailed.
Facebook has reacted with privacy changes, some of which have even weakened prior privacy settings. If you use FB, you need to know and understand how much of what everyone in and outside of your circle of friends can see. If you only have your spouse, a few relatives and a few close friends on Facebook, it probably doesn’t matter at all if they see you’ve just commented on someone’s political post on their FB page. However, if work colleagues or prospective employers are among your “friends,” you probably want to be more circumspect. Even if everyone knows you play Farmville, do you want all these people to see every time you buy a cow? Do you want everyone to see each time you’re tagged on a photo? The list goes on.
In looking up how to solve this type of problem, I stumbled on a very good video by Nick O’Neill on his very good AllFaceBook.com website, and was prepared to share it here, but it is already out of date. The comments stream (almost 300) chronicled growing frustration with Facebook and a feeling that it is morphing without anyone understanding how their privacy will be affected. I doubt any of us wants to find out tomorrow morning that everything we’ve done online over the past 24 hours has been showing up in our news feed to friends, as well as anyone who did a Google search on our names. Yet, that’s where Facebook seems to be heading with the goal of providing an ever more rich social experience.
Just as in cameras introduced into our computers to film our every move, we have now invited Facebook to keep track of us. If Big Brother is out there, we’ve probably already installed him as a piece of software.