Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Online Citizenship

I'm ending the year on a big question about a questionable role:

What do we as parents pass down or up to our kids about their online futures? ("Up" in cases where the digital natives run the show.) This could also be interpreted by our preoccupied progeny as their future. Period.

I've heard about parents that strictly forbid any kind of online identity, a.k.a. the personal Facebook page. I've heard about parents who don't want to cramp their child's need for self-exploration and expression. I think both extremes miss the more sensible middle position.

A more moderate stance assumes the child's social growth needs to take root in the same soil as the good kids, the bad ones, their distant cousins they never see, and the friend from camp last summer who's never going back. In all cases Facebook is more than a first stab at a public identity. It is the brokerage between the restless imaginations of teens and the larger forum where they test fledgling ideas and interests -- especially whether the new crush will reciprocate before dinner or at least before bed.

The permissive parent is confusing two worthy and conflicting goals:

(1) let the kid develop a sense of independence free from the opinions and judgments of their elders.

(2) show the child the consequence of pushing away boundaries and acting on the misguided belief that all the friends of their friends are presumed trustworthy and that the "face value" aspect of Facebook means everyone who reviews their page has passed the smell test. That doesn't mean we volunteer or invoke our own sniffers. It doesn't mean that we ask our kids to friend us so that we can shadow them with instant texting updates of what they say and do.

Here are a couple of suggestions designed to hold the line on a reasonable set of guidelines for our kids:

1. Personal Settings: Make full and diligent use of the security tools available in Facebook. Your kid can control who sees their profile, right down to key details. They can also control who can search for their profiles.

2. The Hard Boot: Perhaps the most airtight solution to would-be stalkers is the block option. Singling out a potential creep causes all ties to dissolve in one simple and elegant stroke. A block conceals your page from any Facebook search, profile browse, or site interaction (such as Wall posts, Poke, etc.). This is a major send-off of any pre-existing bonds. Any ties to the blockee are vanquished (for example, friendship connections, Relationship Status, etc.). Parents should hold the block card in reserve if your kid lets on that they suspect that any networking relation of theirs may be taking advantage of their better nature.

3. Personal Details: What they cannot do is post their contact details -- specifically their home address and phone number. Get ready for their GEN Millennial eyes to roll around this one. Their ideas about privacy may sound a lot like naivete, even surrender to the marketing giants who lord over our online lives. Our kids will tell us to get over this one. Whether we do or don't the point is that until the credit card bills come in their name to their own residences, no physical addresses and phone numbers, please. Thanks. Think whatever you want about how unfair I am. Thanks again. Now do your homework -- on the computer with the dial-up modem. And if you're really out of line you will be forced to live from moment to moment as I will disconnect you.

4. Direct Experience: I'm leaving my diciest suggestion for my parting advice. I understand that youth is wasted on the young, yada yada do. Yes, the temptation is great to leap in and save our kids from posting a comment or relating a story that will come back to bite or embarrass them later. Unless the oversight puts them in harm's way I say resist that impulse. Let them retain the reputation restoration squad when it comes time to exhume whatever statements they will one day regret. It's experience that our kids need. It's direct experience that speaks louder than we do.

Happy New Year to all.

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attentionSpin is a consulting practice formed in 1990 to create, automate and apply a universal scoring system (“The Biggest Picture”) to brands, celebrities, events and policy issues in the public eye. In the Biggest Picture, attentionSpin applies the principles of market research to the process of media analytics to score the volume and nature of media coverage. The explanatory power of this research model: 1. Allows practitioners to understand the requirements for managing the quality of attention they receive 2. Shows influencers the level of authority they hold in forums where companies, office-seekers, celebrities and experts sell their visions, opinions and skills 3. Creates meaningful standards for measuring the success and failure of campaigns and their connection to marketable assets.