If you were to catch me sitting in my home office in front of our computer, you’d undoubtedly find a very confused woman. I am usually stuck, seriously, frozen in place when I try to do anything beyond looking up something on the Internet, viewing photos, checking out YouTube videos or searching on iTunes. Email? When I have to email something with an attachment, I struggle to find it. In the event I manage that step, I am at a complete loss if the file is too big and must be resized. A long overdue computer class is in my very near future and it can’t come soon enough. I just hope it includes a lesson or two ... or 10 ... on how to cope with the reality that our daughter and son, ages 10 and 8, are more savvy and more interested users of the computer than me and Tom. Admittedly, Tom and I are slow to catch the ever-changing technology train. We are more like the turtle couple from the cable commercial, content with moving “slow.” We do have iPhones, albeit the 4S, not the flashier new models. I think Siri talks on mine, but sometimes I think that’s me talking to myself about the fact that the World Wide Web lies within reach of our kids’ fingertips and it scares me. Funny how it doesn’t scare them one bit. Nor should it truthfully, unless I let my own fears about the negative aspects of the Internet integrate their thoughts. As a former reporter, I am familiar with stories of online bullying, and of people being arrested for arranging online trysts with would-be juveniles who are really undercover police officers. In covering one Internet crime story, I knocked on the door of a man charged with sharing child pornography online. He lived ... get this ... with his mom above a day care center. Once, when I let my daughter research a school project on our home computer, she apparently learned something pretty interesting, according to a conversation afterward in the car. It went something like this: “Mom, did you know Cleopatra was topless?” I could have driven into a tree! Turns out in one of the many online images, a woman depicting Cleopatra wasn’t completely dressed. I always think staying calm in that kind of situation in front of my kids is really important; so of course I freaked out.
That kind of Internet usage makes me worry. That said, I’ve also covered positive stories where people have used social media sites to raise awareness of someone’s struggle with an illness like cancer and efforts to help a family. I admit, on my iPad I’ve watched some of the funniest scare videos on YouTube and have had to wipe the tears rolling down my face after laughing hysterically. The kids ask if they can watch something their friends say is funny and I check it out before they see it. I know helping our kids navigate the Internet safely and successfully comes down to educating them about what’s out there, the good and the bad, just as we do in everyday life. They both have Kindles, which we thought would be great because they both love to read. They can even download library books with their own cards, but more time these days is spent playing Minecraft. They love the app that I describe as Internet Legos. They can build unbelievable worlds and find each other’s characters within them.
But it becomes annoying when for the 10th time we are calling them to the dinner table and they haven’t heard us at all. Their heads are bent over tablets, their ears are closed. Fixation is an understatement, so we set and try to stick to time limits. An app our daughter has lets her text friends.
We monitor it and have many conversations about the risks of putting too much personal information out there that you can’t take back. We are glad sports and other activities occupy a lot of their time, which is where we try to balance everything out. Of all of us, Tom is the least interested in these devices. He still keeps score with a pencil. He only upgraded to an iPhone to get work emails.
The bonus for him is being able to FaceTime us while he’s on the road. Which brings us to our daughter’s quest for an iPhone so she can communicate with us like that too, “especially in an emergency.” I know it’s the same argument plenty of parents have heard from their kids, but it hasn’t swayed us yet. As with everything else, we will give it a lot of thought and let our instincts tell us when the time is right. That’s one answer we can’t get on the Internet.
Robin Rieger is a former anchor and reporter with CBS 3. A lifelong South Jersey resident, she lives with her husband, Philadelphia 76ers Radio play-by-play broadcaster Tom McGinnis, and their two children in Burlington County.
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 1 April, 2014).
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