How Much Of Our Children’s Narratives Should We Share Online?

Social networks abound with the intimate details of our lives. Family photos, vacation plans, concerns and celebrations – all of it becomes part of our ongoing online identities. It’s one thing when you’re posting about yourself, but what about when you post about your kids?

As I browse various social networks, I’ve come to realize that people are just plain sharing too much stuff. I cringe when I see baby pictures because I know pedophiles steal them. I wince when a friend posts “Greetings from vacation!” because I know burglars use the same social networks to find empty homes to rob. I want to scream when people say, “I only friend people I know” or “I use the same password on Facebook and Twitter” because I know cybercriminals create fake profiles and hijack real ones.

My question is this: How much of our children’s narratives should we share online?

I find myself coming down hard on this issue, as a writer and as an adult adoptee and advocate for adoptee rights. I believe the narratives of minors should be not be shared, or should only be shared minimally, until the minor is of an age to make his or her own decisions. I’ve spoken on my adoptee rights blog 73adoptee about the question of who controls adoptee narratives (here and here, for example). Many adoptive parents and prospective adopters blog intimate details about an adoptee’s origins before that adoptee even has a chance to know for themselves! I know how I’d feel if the personal details of my origins had been spread around in public before I was old enough to voice my opinion. It’s up to me to decide what to share of my story, and how much, and when. (It’s also up to me to decide what I should know about my adoption instead of having agencies or governmental bureaucracies deciding for me, as eloquently described by my friend Amanda over at Declassified Adoptee.)

We can also see this in the furor over Liza Long (the “Anarchist Soccer Mom”) and the intimate details she shared about her son in the wake of the school shooting in Connecticut. Some have lauded her efforts to improve mental health, while others have chastized her for oversharing her son’s story. I have to say I’m leaning toward the latter. How would you like it if you were in that kid’s shoes – unable to share your version of your own story? How would you like it if your parents were telling the universe about your academic problems or physical ailments or mental health?

When you talk about your children online, you’re not making private comments to your Aunt Martha over tea in her parlor. This is the Internet. It is global, and it is permanent. What happens when that child becomes an adult and wants a say over how his or her narrative has been shared? How can they reclaim their narratives later on? Will Facebook take down the posts? Will Twitter and Blogger and Instagram delete that information? Will all the engines that have archived the data also delete that information? The backup tapes? The locally cached copies?

I think we all know the answer to that.

Such information can also be used for cyberbullying. Let’s say you’ve got a kid whose parent posted about a bitter divorce. Don’t you think, when that child is a teen, that other teens might try to dig up as much dirt about them as possible? How is that going to make the kid feel? How would YOU feel knowing the information you shared was later used against your own child?

As an IT expert, my advice to parents has always been: Share minimally. Don’t post family photos on social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – not even with the privacy controls locked down. I don’t care how convenient it is or how many of your friends are doing it. Those privacy controls never stay locked down. Bugs are found or hacks occur or switches get flipped and you suddenly discover that your precious five-year-old’s face has been Photoshopped onto raunchy material and spread around the underbelly of the Internet.

I try not to blog about my kids except in a generic way. I occasionally describe events, like our family Doctor Who cosplay for Halloween, but I don’t share their names or personal narratives. I ask questions, as any parent does. Sometimes I do it on the Internet. But I strive not to badmouth my kids or speak publicly about private information. No, not even in private chat. No, not even in email. It’s basic common sense.

Kids may not be adults, but they are still people, and when they become adults they have to deal with the repercussions of the decisions made for them. So do your kids a favor. You’re the caretaker of their information, not the owner. Safeguard it until they are able to take care of it themselves.

What do you think about the sharing of childrens’ information online?

(Comments welcome but moderated against spambots. And if you’re only here to argue with me over adoptee rights, don’t bother – go over to 73adoptee or other blogs like Declassified Adoptee and Musings Of The Lame and First Mother Forum to learn about the adoption reform movement.)

Image courtesy of pat138241 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why Video Games Are Good For Your Kids

People are surprised that I allow my children to play video games. I constantly find media-fueled hype like this recent article from the BBC: Pupils ‘made more violent by computer games’

Bradford teacher Alison Sherratt is set to tell the ATL annual conference in Manchester that members of her reception class have been acting out scenes from games well above limit for their age.

“The inspiration for this motion was when I watched my class out on the playground throwing themselves out of the window of the play car in slow motion and acting out blood spurting from their bodies,” she says.

“I followed it up in circle time and talked about what they knew about playing games on the computer.”

She questions how to respond when one of her pupils asks her to join in a game by “stabbing a person in the back”.

Time to party like it’s 1979
For pity’s sake! We’ve had video games for generations and still these hidebound attitudes prevail? Let’s go over it again, folks: Not all video games are violent gorefests. Many of them are not only suitable for children, but can help teach valuable skills like problem solving and cooperative play.

The article eventually gets to the heart of the actual problem:

Ms Sherratt also raises concerns over children having access to games unsupervised in their rooms, and wonders whether their parents are checking on what they are doing.

Exactly. It’s not video games that are the problem, but parental supervision. Except the article only mentions that after we’ve stoked the flames of hysteria. There’s a big difference between My Little Pony and Grand Theft Auto. As parents it’s our responsibility to understand that difference.

Video games are a form of art
I play video games myself. Personally I don’t care for the first-person-shooter variety, but that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with FPS. I simply prefer RPGs like Tales of Symphonia and Dragon Age. I like games with character building, story arcs, and plots worthy of a good novel. In fact, that’s just what many modern video games are – unique universes in a new medium. Rather than television or books, we find art and beauty in video games.

(Art and beauty in video games? Yes. Read this article about the Art Of Video Games exhibit – at the Smithsonian. Good enough for ya?)

The games my kids play are similarly cooperative. We’re fond of the Lego series: Lego Star Wars, Lego Indiana Jones, Lego Harry Potter. I frequently find my kids working together to figure out how they can get beyond an obstacle or find a treasure. This cooperation translates to other aspects of their lives, as you can see when they play board games or build with real Legos.

How families can embrace technology
A former teacher recommended an excellent book which might change your views on kids and video games. The Connected Family: Bridging The Digital Generation Gap by Seymour Papert argues that technology is here to stay, and the only way we can deal with it as parents is to embrace it in ways that enhance our families.

I remember when the Atari 2600 came out, the Apple II, the PC, the family iMac, Sega Genesis. Today it’s Facebook and Twitter and Xbox – same principles, different technology. And every time something new comes out, a certain subset of people have to lash out at it in paranoia, as if this is something new and awful that has suddenly descended upon the planet. Again.

That’s not to say there aren’t dangers on the Internet. Believe me, it’s my job to educate parents on exactly what those dangers are. But you can’t avoid technology for the sake of keeping your kids safe. That’s like never driving your kids anywhere because there might be a car accident.

How our geeky household does it
Here at Chez Guidry, we almost always play video games as a family. The consoles are in the living room so everyone can participate, especially games like Wii Sports. Even if we parents aren’t playing we are still spending time with our kids.

That’s not to say we don’t have rules. Typically there’s no screen time during the school week. We make the occasional exception for important events (like new episodes of MythBusters, which as far as I’m concerned is educational science television). Screen is only allowed on the weekends, and only for limited periods of time. I will also make exceptions for reading ebooks on an e-reader if it’s real reading and not an interactive app that’s more game than book.

Do my kids fight these restrictions? Of course. They want to play video games all the time. (Hey, who doesn’t?) But I don’t let my kids play video games constantly. We don’t take handheld players in the car or to the pediatrician. They know they’ll get to play when it’s appropriate, and they also know that if a punishment goes beyond time-out, the next thing Mom’s going to say is, “You’re grounded from screen time.”

Do you play video games with your kids? What are some of your favorite family-friendly games? Share in the comments!

 

The Big Secret To Re-Inventing Yourself As A Writer

After last year’s sabbatical and mid-career epiphany, I realized it’s time to get serious about writing fiction. I’ve reinvented myself before, when I decided to leave the corporate sector to start my own business and again when I decided to branch out from IT consulting into freelance writing.

And I’ve discovered the big secret to re-inventing yourself as a writer. To become a writer, you have to decide you are a writer.

It doesn’t have anything to do with how many stories you’ve published or how well you’ve built your author platform. Don’t get me wrong, those things are important. They develop you as a writer, but they don’t make you a writer. Only you can do that.

I sat down a few years ago and decided that I wanted to write about business and technology. Actually I was already writing about business and technology, for my clients and on my Tech Tips blog. But I wanted to pursue it in depth, because I love writing about things like social media, cloud computing, and data security. Today, I’m a successful freelance IT writer – because I decided I was. And because I decided I was, other people (read: employers) saw me that way too.

I’m applying the same strategy to fiction. I love science fiction and fantasy, as anyone who’s had the misfortune to utter the words “doctor” and “who” in the same breath around me can attest. You can achieve your goals, too. Just decide whatever it is you want and go for it. If you fail, so what? Isn’t that better than not trying?

There it is, the super-duper big secret to re-inventing yourself as a writer. Hush, don’t tell anybody how basic it is. Everyone thinks “becoming a writer” is such a big deal. Your first published piece, that’s a big deal! Becoming a writer is a mindset. And in that mindset, here are my New Year’s writing resolutions for 2012:

  • Write more
    Number one on the list. A writer has to write, and I write a lot, but this year I want to focus on getting these fiction pieces off the back burner. I’m also continuing to spread my wings as a freelance IT writer.
  • Submit more
    Which brings us to resolution #2. My goal this year is to finish stories and get them out the door pronto. No sitting, no waiting, and NO MORE REVISIONS. It’s easy to say, “This piece isn’t quite ready yet” when you really mean “I’m scared to submit this.”

But it’s no good writing in a vacuum, which is why I’m also going to:

  • Interact more
    On Twitter, on blogs, in the sf/f community. I’ll also be sharing tips for writers based on my experience as an IT consultant and social media expert, so stay tuned. (If you want a head start, check out my Tech Tips blog where I have oodles of information on everything from marketing via social media to protecting yourself from viruses.)
  • Read more
    The more you read, the better you write, and I could never resist a book anyway. During my sabbatical I returned to devouring novels like candy. (Or, in the case of A Song of Ice and Fire, more like poisoned gruel.) I’ve got Paolini’s Inheritance lined up next, and when that new Pern novel is out it’s mine, baby.
  • Buy more silly geek toys
    Because the only thing better than a sonic screwdriver is another sonic screwdriver. And doesn’t every garden need a Weeping Angel?

What are your goals for 2012? Share them in the comments!

Where To Find Me: Blogs And Twitter

I’m a freelance writer and IT specialist with a passion for science fiction and fantasy. Here on my personal blog I talk about the latter, but I also run two other blogs, one about computers and one about adoption. Here’s how to keep it all straight when looking for me online.

Triona’s Tech Tips
Blog: www.guidryconsulting.com/techtips
Web site: www.guidryconsulting.com
Twitter: @trionaguidry
My professional blog is for people seeking computer help. I offer tech support tips, security advice, and help with blogs and social media. Tech Tips grew out of my consulting business, as a way for me to provide timely information to my customers about computer news and security. Anyone is free to subscribe by email.

living in a fantasy world
Blog: www.trionaguidry.com/blog
Twitter: @trionaguidry
My personal blog is for anyone who, like me, is addicted to fantasy and science fiction. I talk about geeky stuff and seek advice from fellow writers in the genre. If you like swords and time travel, stop by and say hello.

73adoptee
Blog: www.73adoptee.com
Twitter: @73adoptee
My adoption blog. Mostly for members of the adoption community, though guests are welcome (open minds preferred). Here I speak as an adult adoptee about the issues facing us today including stereotypes, bias, and the restoration of our identities and civil rights.

If you’re interested you can also contact me via LinkedIn and Facebook:

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/trionaguidry
Facebook: www.facebook.com/trionaguidry