I got a query from a PR representative a week or so ago pitching a social network aimed at the under-13 crowd and surprised them when I responded that I was really not at all supportive of kids spending more time on computers but rather preferred things that helped kids have non-screen time and real-life friends.
What struck me as I wrote to them and got their “oh, um, okay” response was that it might just be possible that because we’re heavily invested in social media as dad bloggers (and, yeah, mom bloggers too) that all of the companies that want to communicate with us assume that this zeal must de facto spread to our children too.
But I’m suspecting that I’m not alone in creating a sort of before/after wall with my children’s digital life. And I don’t think that 13’s the magic age, either. In fact, my almost-15yo daughter and I constantly talk about reasonable usage policies, time management, privacy, and prioritization of tasks.
In other words, I say “holy moly, you’re on the computer again? that’s not okay” and she says “I need to do homework on the computer, Daddy!” to which I respond “then why are you on Facebook?”
That’s a separate discussion, of course, and one that we’re working on ourselves, our “Acceptable Computer Usage Agreement”, but for this discussion I’ll simply observe that my 11yo signed up for a Facebook account without permission and I shut it down. He wasn’t very happy, but I’m pretty hardcore about it.
Which brings us back to topic.
I do not encourage any children to spend time online at all. We’re in a pervasive, always on world, our kids are going to figure things out basically instantaneously once we let them connect, but having their own social networks? So not something I support.
This isn’t to say that I don’t like to share photos, stories and updates about my children with other adult friends and family members, something that I feel some people then assume. No, I’m a very proud Dad and love my three children quite a bit.
But I feel like so many of the problems our children are facing nowadays, from health issues and weight management to attention disorders, can be tied to too much screen time — whether it’s a TV, computer or mobile device — and way too little face-to-face play and activities. It’s like a bumpersticker:
Books over Facebook.
Hmmm… maybe I can trademark that?
There are more of these child-centric social networks cropping up every month, though, so I’m wondering, am I that far off the beaten track, or is it — as I suspect — the increasingly hands-off parenting that our children experience nowadays?