mathleticsThanks to Chris Read, Canadian Dad, for posting this question on his Facebook page this week:

With social media being an inevitable path for our children, do you actively stay on top of the latest social networks or are you trusting that your children will be honest with you and use them responsibly?

It reminded me of a near miss we had with Zacharie and his online behaviour.

I’ve been pretty lax with my kids online. For the most part their habits have included playing in apps with the wifi disabled. They know the dangers of buying extra credits in games, and they don’t know any of my passwords (well except the one to unlock the iPad).

I was lax, because I got comfortable. I thought I had all the rules in place, and nothing bad was going down. Until it almost did.

This year, a new wrinkle in my online management has emerged: computers. At school he was using computers to work on projects and practice math and spelling. Half way through the year, at a parent interview, I realized Z was falling behind because I wouldn’t let him on the computer at home. He wasn’t getting the extra math and spelling practice in, so the teacher asked if he could have some online time at home.

So I tossed him one of my old Macbooks and let him go to town. His Mathletics and Spellodrome activities were done at the kitchen table, and that’s all he did.

Then they started working on projects and presentations. Each kid in the class was given a Google ID and they were learning how to manage Google Drive, create slideshows, and more. I was amazed at his dexterity in creating slides about the speed of cheetahs, and how eager he was to create other slide shows for friends to share ideas on projects.

He created another slide show folder he shared with a friend to talk about their favourite LEGO Nexo Knight Shields. He created another for the friends he had at a sleepover to talk about Dino Kings on Netflix. He was using these Google docs and folders as a social network. Cool!

zacharie computer

I wasn’t concerned about his behavior and use of the tools until he asked me how to spell some words for a new folder he was creating. “Secrets,” “boyfriends,” and “kissing” started to get mentioned as he pecked away at the chair across the room.

This was definitely not LEGO or dinosaur or cheetah territory. I snapped my work shut, sat upright and asked him what he was doing.

“I’m making a folder about Sarah’s* secrets to share with Tammy*,”
he meekly replied.

Apparently a couple of girls in the class had gotten into a spat, Zacharie was caught in the middle and one had asked him to spill dirt on the other. He was now creating a Google slideshow about all of the secrets he knew about this girl.

He hadn’t really thought about what he was doing, or the ramifications of it. He knew how to use this sharing tool, someone asked him to share, and so he was.

And this is how it starts. A small amount of trust, a large amount of naivete and suddenly your 9 yr old is an online gossipping, shaming, bully. Wow.

computer

We had a long talk. We talked about secrets. We role played to see how he would feel if others talked about him like this. We discussed privacy, and gossip, and I explained a lot of new words to him.

And then I went through all his Google folders to make sure it was nothing but LEGO cartoons and pictures of big cats.

I honestly don’t think there was anything malicious intended by my son. It’s the sort of playground gossip that kids (and adults) engage in all the time. But when you write it down. When you digitally share it behind people’s backs, and it eventually gets in front of their faces, the consequences are so much deeper.

I caught it, this time. But there will be a next time. The lessons and vigilance is just starting, my trust shelter shattered.

These tween years are going to be so damn complicated.

* not real names.

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