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Parenting Teens After the Advent of the Internet*
Dr. J Hannah Greenberg

June 2009

It would have been safer to leave them with a loaded
Desert Eagle than with a screen tuned to the World Wide Web.

Ours is home filled with computers. My life’s work is writing and teaching writing. My husband is a software architect. Computers have long served as word processors and data banks for me. They have long served as a livelihood for my husband.

He and I used to joke, decades earlier, that he could both pop together the hardware (he had studied electrical engineering during a time when no computer science departments, per say, existed) and then create sufficient code to program his creation. I used to joke that there wasn’t a genre with which I hadn’t fooled around or a research method that I hadn’t tried (think physical file cards in physical libraries and physical periodical reference guides).

As such, it was natural for us to own a computer. Eventually, we even owned two. He hacked at code on his. I hacked at text on mine. We were happy with the efficiency provided by our machines. It never occurred to us that possessing, and frequently using, such engines could cause troubles.

Years passed. We were Blessed with children. We were Blessed to participate in those children’s growth. Over time, our two computers grew to five (yes, if you have been keeping score, there are, b’li eyen hora, six of us; don’t ask).

Today, our children, who know little of movies or of television (save for the clips or reviews to which they are exposed to on the Internet) know a lot about popular culture. Even though my husband and I find such knowledge antithetical to our beliefs about things sacred and secular, and even though, for a decade or two, I taught thousands of college students about the notorious impacts of media, our kids have become infused with that ever so toxic type of savvy.

In hindsight, in some regards, it would have been safer to leave them with a loaded Desert Eagle than with a screen tuned to the World Wide Web. More troublesome, is that it is more difficult to wean the kids of this technology than was for us to acquire it, or to allow it to have been acquired for them.

Nu, so what happened? I’d profess that our home experienced an episode of “ideal versus real.” We subcomed: to social pressure, to unmindful, but erroneously generous, relatives, and to our own exhaustion. My husband and I became too casual and too careless about allowing more vistas to that technology into our home. Consequently, now we are paying for our lack of vigilance.

Whereas Computer Cowboy and I have rejected watchdog software as too problematic, we did implement rules and regulators (I’m aware that some of you readers are thinking that parents always have to implement rules and regulations. You are right). Some of our children, the ones that prefer laptops over less mobile computers, are required to use their devices in the public space of our salon. Others of our children, who are content to sit in front of a larger screen, are afforded, visa via electronic locks, only one hour, per day, of Internet access.

Despite the true boundaries that these safeguards create, these solutions are lacking. Ipods, and even cellphones of certain sorts, can “talk” to computers. Children can talk to each other, to known entities and to strangers. Anyone can quickly exit a webpage.

Thus we have also implemented an additional, and I think better, but still imperfect and unsatisfactory response to this dilemma; we have taught our children to think about what they are doing and to make choices accordingly. Just as much as we had to teach them, when they were old enough, and have to teach them, now, as they are becoming old enough, how to use, respectively, kitchen knifes and cars, we taught them how to use the Internet.

My husband and I did not instruct them on how to use fancy fonts, how to crop photos, or how to get the most desirable results from searches. We did not teach them how to write code. We did not teach them how to build a link empire. We answer their questions about such things, sometimes, or encourage them to find their own answers. What Computer Cowboy and I focused on and what we revisit from time to time are matters of privacy and of protection.

For our family, chat rooms, not exclusive to friends, who the kids already know face-to-face, are taboo. It is equally prohibited for our offspring to give their real names, addresses or other contact information to anyone of the Internet. They may post no pictures of themselves.

The children are restricted to sites that I would rate no worse than “PG,” (though, truth be told, some pages provided by the manufacturers of building toys, places I’d otherwise rate “G,” have much unnecessary “action” as part of their attraction).

The children have been rehearsed, as well, to immediately inform a parent if anything “weird” shows up in an email box or on any other place they access. Questionable text is necessarily considered dangerous to their wellbeing.

These responses to our kids’ involvement with the Internet are not flawless. They are better, however, than merely relying on checking user histories (our little smarties long ago figured out how to alter those lists) or on software-based overseers (Boy-Getting-Taller is already learning how to write and overwrite in Java). These responses, do, on the other hand, take into account that one developmental task of adolescents is to challenge authority; these responses make the teens share in the responsibility. These responses do invite our children to continue to develop into critical and creative thinkers. These responses impact on the medium’s consumers, not on the medium. The Internet remains dangerous.

As I write these words, on my computer, behind my closed office door, my husband hacks on his, in his company office. Our little ones are being raised in an environment in which computers are useful, desirable tools. Their parents are not yet ready to pull the plug.


*originally published in The Jerusalem Post, on April 28, 2008, at http://cgis.jpost.com/Blogs/joy/entry/parenting_teens_after_the_advent

Channie Greenberg's most recent work has appeared in: The Jerusalem Post, Mishpacha, Hamodia, The Externalist, Type-A Moms, Fallopian Falafel Zine, The Clarity of the Night, and Tuesday Shorts. In the near future, her articulated irreverence will be published by: Poetica Magazine, Bewildering Stories, Doorknobs and Bodypaint, The Blue Jew Yorker, AntipodeanSF, and The Mother Magazine.

When not engaged in wordplay, Channie paints, builds ceramics, and supplies small spatulas to imaginary hedgehogs. She also dreams about the day when her children will correctly sort the laundry.

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