Parenting Responsibly in the Internet Era

Data never goes away. Don’t forget about that. Just because you’re not using it, it doesn’t mean it goes away. It will never get deleted. It’s just like real life. There’s stuff you and I did in high school which we hope our friends have all forgotten. At some point the record’s out there but luckily for us we’re old enough that a lot of this is not photographed, time stamped, and logged somewhere for the kids today. The 10 year old’s, the 12 year old’s, the 15 year old’s, the high school kids. Everything they’re doing is being photographed and indexed online. If they put a stupid photo on Facebook or on the dating site, and a kid in high school today admits to you, “Hey, I’m smoking marijuana, head banging, and doing something else.” I’m sure we all did something like that in high school. We’ve all forgotten about it. The kids today don’t have that luxury and this will haunt them for the rest of their careers until they either have a right to be forgotten online, or we socially accept that what you did then is completely forgiven.

One of the earliest cases goes back by 10 years. Back when MySpace was still around. Remember my MySpace? And Facebook was the new kid on the block. There were 2 or 3 stories which caught my attention. One of them was this nearly perfect Harvard student, 4.0 GPA, honors, all that at Harvard law. He was applying internships in New York at the White Shoe law firms, and he got turned down for every one of them. Why? Academically he was brilliant and gifted; his MySpace profile had this scrawny little white kid from the burbs talking about smoking blunts and talking to bitches. That was one of the earliest cases where a social media profile was used to deny a job to a kid. The other was when Apple in the late 90’s, early 2000’s. A 20 year old intern working at a printing company in Seattle, Washington in Redmond, near Microsoft’s campus. He is working for the printing agency that did all the printing for Microsoft, all their marketing materials. He took a photo of a truck full of Mac G5’s being offloaded, put it up on his personal homepage for the blogs, and he wrote, “Even the evil empire uses G5’s.” Within 24 hours, not only was his internship terminated, his employer lost a 25-year old contract with Microsoft because one of their interns had leaked data that Microsoft didn’t want make public.

This comes down to good parenting and using common sense. As a father of two girls, in our house, social media is completely forbidden. My kids don’t have their own email accounts. They are not authorized to go on social media, LinkedIn, Facebook, or anything like that. And the rule in my house is my kids will get their own social media accounts when I can trust them with the family car, when I think they’re old enough to drive. The mistake I see a lot of people making is confusing the hot new technology, the cool thing everybody else is doing — with new parenting. Just because everyone else is doing it, it doesn’t mean your kids should be doing it. And just because it’s technically feasible, it doesn’t mean it is a good idea.

We were all proud parents when we had our kids. I don’t recall posting online the due date. But today there are sites that will encourage parents, grandparents, whoever else to put up their baby bump photos, the prospective date of birth photos, etc. Parents or grandparents think nothing of publishing online: “My new baby daughter was born today — named Sophia Rose” along with last name, date of birth, the weight, city, state, parents’ names. And you have just permanently destroyed your child’s right to privacy for life. We know the name, date of birth, city of birth, mother’s maiden name, what else do I need to open a credit account and child’s name? Social security number? That’s pretty easy to get in your local social security office. This is the real threat we see, just because it’s cool, just because you can put up the “we’re having a baby” website it doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can put up “we’re expecting our baby on July 15th” it doesn’t mean you should. This is the mistake people are making with technology. People are saying technology is different. It’s a tool and in most cases it’s actually your enemy.

Use common sense. Teach your kids about social media, teach yourself about social media. The internet is no different than teaching your kids or yourself how to cross the street. We weren’t born knowing to look both ways, somebody had to teach us that. Use common sense, think before you post. And if you never ever want to explain it to your grandmother or the judge in court, don’t put it online.