I’m quite techno savvy. I work online, run my own sites, know how to use the latest internet software and understand what an emoticon is and what twitter does. I’m on facebook, I blog, I can text really fast on my BlackBerry (complete with acronyms), and yes, I can even programme the VCR.
I will admit, though, that RSS feed configuration confuses me a little, I’m not sure I could explain to you what Blueteeth actually do, and I can’t always solve Wii gaming levels for my son. “Ask your sister!” is a common refrain in our house.
My children are only 6 and 9 years old, yet I can feel the shift in techno communications power. Slowly, ever so gradually, I’m feeling my hold on this increasingly hi-tech world begin to slip – a little like my facial epidermis – and not only am I losing a solid grip on all things computerised, I’m finding myself asking that dreaded question on an almost daily basis ‘”Who sings that song, kids?”
Now, if that question doesn’t point a great hairy ‘you’re getting old’ finger straight at your sagging epidermis, I don’t know what will.
As my relatively small children whiz their way around the computer screen, flick off a couple of emails, and navigate Husband’s new work phone as though it was a four-piece toddler puzzle, I’m feeling a little nervous about keeping up. Perhaps it’s because I’m busy. Perhaps it’s because hi-tech gadgets are being superseded at the speed of light. Perhaps it’s because my brain cells are on that downhill ski slope, whooping it up in the chalet of forgetfulness rather than slicing meticulously through the moguls of clarity.
It actually makes me feel tired. Frustrated. Clueless. Because I want to be part of the hi-tech club, but I’m not sure I a) belong there any more, or b) can actually do it any more.
Whatever the case, I’m not sure that sticking my techno-challenged head into the sand is a wise thing to do. My daughter has her own email address (which I monitor) and any day now I’m going to hear the ‘can I facebook and/or twitter’? question. She’s already done Club Penguin (which is lame now, apparently) and Facebook is probably a natural progression now that the site has experienced a tween/teen invasion.
So what to do?
According to the recent Optus Family Communication Survey, it’s common for Baby Boomers and [a few select] Gen Xers to believe it’s all ‘too hard’. The Survey, which ran to more than 600 pages, unearthed an astounding set of statistics that explore the relationship between high-tech communications and family members, from Grandma Gert to toddler Tim.
When it came to internet broadband, for example, the Survey revealed that parents were six times more likely to give up their partner, 12 times more likely to give up chocolate and 16 times more likely to give up their daily coffee, than their broadband connection. Sayonara, spouse.
For 55 per cent of Australian families, internet usage has more than tripled in the last five years. For 23 per cent, it has doubled. Three quarters of internet usage is for personal and entertainment reasons and 25 per cent is for work and study. Interestingly, 10-17 year olds are almost twice as likely to use the internet for social networking than homework.
What does this mean? After witnessing a very real-life and frightening incident between a friend’s daughter and an internet predator recently, it means knowledgeable and effective parental involvement. Now.
But there’s no need to allow this to overwhelm us. This hi-tech comms world is not all gloom, doom and the possibility of creeps accessing our inner sanctums. Having access to the internet and mobile phones has its benefits, least of all being able to keep in close contact with our children – both young kids and home-leavers. When all is said and done, the internet has undoubtedly improved the quality of life for Australian families, as the Optus Survey revealed:
- 84 per cent rated the ability to access new information
- 80 per cent rated the ability to communicate cheaply and effectively
- 74 per cent believed it saves you time
- 63 per cent indicated it saves you money
- 65 per cent rated it as a new source of entertainment
- 43 per cent enjoyed the ability to work from home
Over half of Australian children out-smart their parents in technological knowledge before they are 13 years old, and 32 per cent of parents admit they are behind their children by the time they are 15 years old. It’s therefore clear that in order to take advantage of all these hi-tech benefits and still retain a sense of control, we need to get more thoroughly involved.
Mia Freedman, a spokesperson for the Optus Survey, believes technology is the glue that keeps her family in sync. Like many busy mums, she’s constantly trying to keep up with her highly tech-savvy 11 year old. After watching a television interview with Freedman, I was intrigued to hear her talk of modern families falling into three categories when it comes to communications technology.
The first category – the Jetsons – run their lives online. They shop, pay bills, socialise and communicate online, use mobile phones to converse, text, tweet and navigate.
The second group – the Simpsons – uses the internet for a little banking and paying bills. They know how to send a text message but that’s really where the high-tech savvy ends. When a technological communications issue arises in the household, it’s the kids who will know how to solve it.
The Beverly Hillbilliess are somewhat hi-tech phobic. They either don’t own or don’t use a computer and can’t programme the VCR. They think a cordless phone is high-tech.
Our family probably falls into the Jetsons category, with the Simpsons running up behind, panting breathlessly. One of my greatest fears is that I’ll fall behind in a Homer-esque heap, surrounded by a pile of outdated donuts. So I, for one, am thankful Optus did all the groundwork and came up with this convoluted Survey.
Now the question remains… what can we do to haul ourselves into the fullblown Jetson age? Along with Freedman’s tips, here are some ideas that will get your keyboard tapping:
- Keep your family’s computer in a communal space that allows you to see all activity at all times.
- Consider a mobile phone with a limited monthly prepaid card. When the money runs out, that’s it for the month. Think of a mobile phone as a way to keep in touch with your child, rather than control them.
- Learn how to text and learn the chat acronyms so you can keep abreast of the signals sent between teens. Try NetLingo for a comprehensive list.
- Talk to your child about the importance of keeping all identifying information offline – name, address, contact numbers, birth date, school, photographs, etc.
- Explain about the risk of viruses and predators. Discourage children from clicking on extraneous links and from purchasing anything online without your help and approval. In our house, if it ain’t free, you can’t join it.
- Think before you click. Explain to your child that cyberspace is permanent. Once something is sent, once a link is accessed, once a photo is posted, it is there forever and anyone can access it and use it.
- Allow your child to tweet or have their own Facebook page with the condition that you know the password and that you can access the page at any time, unannounced. Consider actually setting up the account with your child. Check their privacy and security settings to make sure the page can’t be accessed globally.
- Allow email addresses so long as you have full access. Gmail have a very low level of spam, so consider a gmail address for younger children.
- Explore the internet together and have your child show you how things work. Actively search for safe pages you think your child might enjoy, to save them cruising and searching themselves.
- Continually keep an eye on their list of friends to ensure there are no inappropriate people listed.
- You can utilise the History function on your web browser to keep tabs on sites visited. Consider Net Nanny for very young children.
- Don’t be afraid to update yourself. Most social networking sites have tutorials, FAQs and basics on how the site operates. Take the time to learn your stuff.
- CyberSmart offers further activities, resources and practical advice to help kids, teens and parents safely enjoy the internet.
- If you are seriously Hillbilly and don’t even know how to switch on the computer, local libraries run basic internet courses that are affordable and perfect for ‘dummies’.
As the evolution of hi-tech communications barrels past us at warp speed, it’s okay to feel a little overwhelmed and left behind. I’ve managed to release my clutch on tube skirts and frosted blue-eyeshadow, I’m sure I can also erase ‘video’ from my verbal repertoire if I just keep on trying.
Same goes for hi-tech comms. Let’s release that retrobrick mobile and get ourselves Bluetoothed. If we band together, we may just keep the grey hairs at bay a teensy bit longer.
Photo credit: US News