Just over a week ago, my wife gave birth to our second child – a healthy, adorable, little boy. For my wife and me, having a second child was a much different experience than when we had our first: we were no longer afraid that we were going to break the baby. We didn’t feel like the hospital should be sued for negligence for allowing us to take the child home. And, perhaps most importantly for this blog, my wife and I now both had smart phones. While one would think the first two items would be worth discussing with soon-to-be repeat parents, I found myself more fascinated by the latter – the presence of this Swiss Army Knife of a phone in my hand. As with our first child’s birth, I took pictures, I made phone calls (Hi, it’s a ___!), and I crafted the email I would send to my friends and family. This time, however, I had the power to hit send within only seconds of my son entering the world. And thus rose my first dilemma as a second-time father – to post, or not to post, that newborn picture?
Don’t get me wrong – the social media world already knew of my son’s arrival (#stoptextingandlookatyouramazingkid), but not much more than that. My post didn’t include a name and, after much hesitation, I decided not to include a picture (and no, there isn’t one attached here, either).
Was I really ready for my son to have a digital footprint at the age of 10 seconds? I know it’s a popular parent experience – creating email addresses, fan pages, and political campaigns for newborns. But did I want to enter him into that ring? More troubling to me was the question, did I really want others to have that much access to him?
As both a teacher and facilitator of online learning, I believe I have a healthy skepticism of life within the Internet. I have seen it bring worlds closer, as I facilitated an online course for Facing History and Ourselves with participants from four different continents. I have watched students access information beyond their physical reach with simple strokes of a keypad. But we have all seen the damage that unchecked and unprepared youth can do with access to others' online identities. What does it mean to teach children that the choices we make online are as important and that the consequences are as real as the choices we make in the real world?
I am not a Luddite, nor do I believe there is anything inherent in the digital world that convinces young men and women that taking someone’s photo, adding a caption and the head of a donkey, is ok. What I do believe is that we as parents, teachers, or just as adults who know young kids, have a responsibility to teach kids how to be upstanding members of their community – whether that community is as tangible as a playground or as imaginary as the age restrictions on social media sites. I assume all parents send their kids outside with a word of warning about traffic and strangers bearing candy – shouldn’t the information superhighway come with at least some road signs?
For over 35 years, Facing History has made its mark by helping students understand how individual identity and decision making can impact their community – both in person and online. To participate in these important discussions, please check out our lessons and webinars that focus on cyberbullying and explore our website for additional resources. In the meantime, I’m going to close my computer and go look at my children.