I can't stop thinking about Monica Lewinsky...

I cannot stop thinking about Monica Lewinsky.

Lately, I’ve been contemplating the seemingly mutually-exclusive relationship between technology and privacy. More and more the topic surfaces in both my personal parenting life and with families and teens in my therapy practice. Parents really struggle to navigate the murky waters of social media with their kids. As parents, it wasn’t a struggle we had experienced in our own lives because the only social ‘media’ we ever used as kids was the telephone (for those in the 40+ set). We probably perceived we had privacy as we chatted away with our friends on our rotary dial phone, but likely an NSA-aspiring sibling quietly picked up the other extension and listened in (I did not do this to my sister. I didn’t. Really) or the phone was in a public place in the house so the only privacy to be found depended on how long you could stretch the cord. Yes kids, an actual cord on the phone! Oh, the humanity!

Things have changed dramatically, haven’t they? Privacy for teens used to be confined to the geographical limitations of their own homes and how much they could keep their parents out of their space. Now, privacy has more meaning – honoring the teen’s need for autonomy and privacy and the complicated world of maintaining the privacy of those with whom teens are connected to through social media. Their geographic sphere now is literally global. And it has become so much harder than just making sure the teens aren’t communicating with inappropriate people online. Now it includes attempting to impart adult moral and ethical guidelines around how to navigate the permanent world of Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and any others that have cropped up in the last 20 seconds.

I’ve asked lots of parents about their role in monitoring their kid’s usage of technology. Of course, there is not a go-to rule of thumb. Some parents are liberal and allow lots of unmonitored access. Some are more regulated or strict in their family rules. Like most of parenting choices, there is lots of grey area

I recently attended a FAN (Family Action Network) speaker event where Carrie James, Ph.D. discussed her research findings. (If you live nearby and have not seen any of the FAN events, they are worth checking out – always fantastic and cutting edge thinkers on social psychology, technology, parenting topics, etc. http://www.familyactionnetwork.net

Anyhoo….Carrie James…She’s a brilliant researcher from Harvard who studies how young people interact with technology and the interesting ethical dilemmas that arise. Check her out here: https://cyber.law.harvard.edu/interactive/events/luncheon/2015/01/james
I had the opportunity to ask her about what she thinks about monitoring technology usage. Is it important for parent’s to read their kids texts, emails, and social media communications? Her response was really intriguing. Quoting media scholar Henry Jenkins, she suggested that rather than monitoring over their shoulder, we would be better serving our children if we ‘had their backs’. She explained that by watching our children and their demeanor after using social media, we can learn much about how they are navigating. Their attitude and mood will tell us if something is going on that needs intervention.
Teaching our kids about ethical uses of technology is a tricky business. How do they learn that the materials online belong to someone – that stealing it for a report for school is not okay? That sitting by silently while friends are using social media in ways that they would never behave in person is not okay? Most parents think that their kids wouldn’t participate in any online bullying or unethical behavior. I’d like to think this is true, too. Unfortunately, my experience as a clinician and a parent tells me that lots of kids do it and even nice kids participate passively and sometimes actively and the results can be devastating.

All of this brings me back to Monica Lewinsky. I’m sure you have run across the press about her new TED talk. If not, check it out here: http://www.ted.com/talks/monica_lewinsky_the_price_of_shame. I’m not going to weigh in on Monica’s choices or behaviors. I will weigh in on this: in a world where access to technology allows us to share embarrassing actions, poor choices, and idiotic moments at the click of a few keys, we must teach young people about the permanence of things on their phones and computers. While the images and chatter appear so temporary and fleeting, Ms. Lewinsky’s experience illustrates the long lasting effects of those choices when they are captured and shared around the universe. Teaching our kids to seek, consume and share content responsibly is a daunting task but one that I feel we are obliged to help them learn.

Personally, I’m really, really glad that nobody was snapping pictures or tweeting about the buffoonery I got myself into when I was younger. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone on this front.

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