The Internet Parent
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Thursday, August 17, 2006

How to Behave in Public

It's all in how you say it...

When I give presentations to community groups or talk one-on-one with parents, I often get enthusiastic agreement about the need to do something, but frustrated expressions about parents' inability to get in front of their kids with "legitimacy".

Many have said, "My kids just don't listen. They think I don't know anything about the Internet, and they say it's not my business. How do I convince them to pay attention to me?"

Have you felt a similar frustration? You're not alone.

Here's my take at a solution: Approach the problem from familiar ground.

You're the parent, right? (OK, your kids can agree on that.)
And you're responsible for the family. (That gets you a grudging, eye-rolling acknowledgement.)

And in particular, you're responsible for the family's behavior in public. (At this point your kids may sit forward, thinking, "Hmmm...where's Mom/Dad going with this?)

Let's call "public behavior" anything that is seen, heard, or otherwise witnessed by other people in a public place, whether that's at the high-school football game or at the local Starbucks (*I was going to say "malt shop", but honestly, I've never seen one...). When your kids go to the mall, you expect a certain kind of behavior - there are "family rules". When they're at school, you have other expectations, or rules. In fact, whenever your kids are out in public anywhere, they almost automatically abide by family rules. It's surprising, perhaps, and maybe you've never explicitly talked about it this way, but it's true.

Why is this true? It's because their behavior in public affects the family. They know it, because you've already drilled it into them from the time that they were toddlers. The reality is, your kids have long-ago conceded that you have the right to set boundaries on their behavior in public.

So how does this help you manage their Internet behavior? Simple.
Internet behavior is public behavior.

The Internet is the world's largest "small town". Everything that is posted on the Internet, or goes over the Internet, even for just a minute or two, can end up as "gossip", recirculated around and around and around ad nauseum.

And in particular, the kind of content that kids are likely to post or share, both because of what they're doing and with whom they're sharing, is VERY likely to get circulated. Perhaps not world-wide, like the Star Wars Kid exhibiting his light-sabre prowess, but far enough to be public, and often times, to cause problems.

Obviously, MySpace is a VERY public place. It may seem obvious to you that it's not a diary, or even a journal, but, surprisingly, your kids may never really consider just how public it is. Call it "" when you talk to your kids. Inform them that employers are actively searching MySpace pages for background on potential employees. And alert them to the fact that the content they post on MySpace is likely to live long past the date when they've "grown up" and out of their current self-image. What if they had had a MySpace page when they were 5 years younger? What would they have posted? Would they want that information still circulating around?

The upshot is that MySpace is a public place, and their behavior on MySpace is public behavior. It's not just "among a few friends". It gets shared and forwarded and circulated.

The same is true of email and instant messaging. It may seem like a private conversation, but it's not. Because it lasts (it's "persistent" in tech lingo), an otherwise private email can get forwarded, circulated, repeated, etc., etc. Sure, the same can be said for a verbal jibe, but with the Internet, 1) the potential audience is huge, 2) that huge audience is accessible all at once with a mouse click, 3) even if you regret saying or posting something, you can never take it back once it's out there. Another way to say this is:
The Internet is Forever.

Online harrassment, cyber-bullying, and other aggressive, mean-spirited behavior are much worse because of these three factors than the old-fashioned kind ever was. Both the victims and the perpetrators of this kind of abuse are living it "in public".

Ask questions like, "How does that reflect on the family? How does it affect brothers, sisters, and parents? How will the community feel about us?"

These facts mean that YOU as a parent have the right and responsibility to monitor and manage your kids' Internet behavior. Which means putting monitoring, filtering, or logging software on the home computer is a completely legitimate move for you. Insisting that you have a right to their email accounts is fair game too. When you make clear to your kids
that "It's NOT a's NOT private!" you help them avoid the pitfalls of excessive Internet behavior from a perspective they may be more able to understand and appreciate.

Kids have this strange view that as long as their parents don't see it, it's not public. Fom the time they're little, kids mostly get their perspective on "public reaction" to their behavior
from their parents. So they subconsciously behave as if the public is their parents. Unfortunately, that's not true. And the worst kind of impact on individuals and families can come from "non-parents" taking advantage of public but unguarded -- and dangerous -- behavior.

Have the conversation with your kids. Internet behavior is public behavior. And public behavior affects the whole family.


  • Very nice site
    i hope to have one like it one day
    i would go a bit darker with the brown to more like the color of dry Dog food

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at April 20, 2007 11:29 PM  

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