Get on board the technology train…or get left behind.

If you have a teenager in your house, you probably don’t need this Los Angeles Times article to confirm that teens are texting more and using traditional phone calls less. Use of land lines is rapidly declining, given the ubiquity of smartphones in every household, and teens are leading the charge when it comes to use of social media like Facebook and Twitter – not surprising to anyone who has 12-18 year olds in their home. The question is, are you using these tools yourself and if not, why?

I have a friend – let’s call her Margie – who refuses to participate in any social media. She has declined to join Facebook or Twitter and doesn’t even like email because “it’s all one big time-suck” and she isn’t interested in connecting with “ex-boyfriends from high school” or “posting personal stuff”. Fair enough. Those of us who use social media or have children who do, know that it certainly can be a huge waste of time and must be monitored. As for connecting with people from your past you’d rather not talk to or posting personal information you’d rather not share, I’d argue that is all at the discretion of the user – you can choose not to accept requests to connect and not to post things you’d rather not share. The thing is, I can’t help but feel that my friend is missing out on a valuable opportunity to understand and connect with her kids (and others), not to mention, protect her little ones from the dangers of the cybersphere.

Let’s use another example from a population even more reluctant to connect: seniors. I’ve been trying to convince my Dad to use email, join Facebook or just play with a computer for years.  He has the computer-phobia that is typical for many of his generation, a fear of “breaking” the computer if he touches it. I’ve tried explaining that he really can’t “break” anything, but his fear of the new and unfamiliar is hard to overcome. Since my kids and I rarely have time for a weekly two-hour phone call to fill him in on our lives – particularly now that my oldest is in college – I can’t help but feel that he, too, is missing out on a valuable means of staying connected with us.

For anyone who has been shying away from the technology of the 21st century, as Margie and my Dad have, I’d like to offer three good reasons why you should move forward and jump into the fray:

1)    Your kids need guidance and protection as they navigate the cyber world. It’s hard to protect your kids from something you, yourself, don’t understand.  If you aren’t familiar with how Facebook works, how can you provide the proper guidance so your children learn to use it wisely?  I know many parents who signed up for Facebook so they could be ‘friends” with their children, but don’t really understand how to use it themselves. They haven’t figured out, for example, that simply being friends with their children doesn’t mean they are seeing everything that is posted to their kids’ Facebook wall. In an age of cyber-bullying and Internet predators, it goes without saying that you want to make sure your kids are safe in cyberspace and are acting as responsible cyber citizens themselves. But did you also know that colleges and employers now routinely patrol applicants’ Facebook pages and other social media to ensure they know just who they are accepting/hiring?  At the university where my daughter is a student-athlete, the athletic department actually employs a full-time person to monitor the athletes’ social media, ensuring that they don’t post inappropriate content. Furthermore, a recent AP story reported that some employers want to require applicants to hand over their Facebook, Linked In and other social media passwords before they will hire them. This may be an overreach (not to mention, an invasion of privacy), but it points to the importance of teaching your kids how to properly use social media. If you don’t know the ins and outs of using it, how can you possibly impart those skills to them?

2)    Technology can actually bring you closer to those you love. It may seem counter-intuitive, but technology can bring you closer to the people in your life. I’m a big believer in putting away the cell phones and turning off the TV every night at dinner, and spending time with your family and friends away from phones and computers. That said, technology can absolutely help you stay in touch and feel connected to your family, friends and community.  Now that my oldest is away at school, I’m so thankful for texting, Twitter, Facebook and Skype – all of which have helped me embrace her independence and still feel that I’m a part of her life.  My husband’s parents – at the ripe old ages of 82 and 89 – recently acquired an iPad and began using Facebook. They are thrilled to be a part of their children’s and grandchildren’s lives in ways they never were before – viewing videos of their grandkids’ swim meets, photos of school events, skyping with them so they can actually see how much they’ve grown since the last visit, and conversing via email or Facebook posts whenever they want, with no concern for the 9-hour time difference. While all of this technology can’t replace a face-to-face visit, it certainly helps to fill in the gaps between visits in a way that wasn’t possible twenty years ago.

3)    Technology keeps you informed, can help your business, and it’s fun!  Despite my 20+ years in technology, I’m pretty traditional. I still like to read the Sunday paper – in print – with my coffee and I still buy hard cover books. That said, I love that when I’m traveling, I can sit in the airport and scroll through my Twitter-feed and very quickly get up-to-speed on the news of the day. There’s a reason why so many companies worldwide now employ social media directors – entire social media departments, in fact – to use and manage these tools. These organizations have discovered that Facebook, Twitter and the like can connect them with customers, partners and clients, and can help get their message out quickly and cost-effectively. Finally, technology is just plain, fun. Why else would your kids want to spend hours of their time on their laptops, smartphones and tablets surfing the web, tweeting, posting photos on Instagram and using Facebook chat?  I’m not suggesting you let them have free reign, of course, nor should you use technology unchecked. Technology can be addicting, as this San Francisco Chronicle article points out, and most kids are using smartphones and social media long before they are emotionally and intellectually ready to handle the responsibility. That’s why it’s so important for you to not only understand and guide their technology usage, but to be a good role model in your own use of technology.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure I’ll convince Margie to join Facebook or my Dad to try Skype, but there’s no question in my mind that the technology train has left the station, and those willing to take a ride will benefit the most.

6 thoughts on “Get on board the technology train…or get left behind.

  1. I’ve had recent experience that’s reinforced for me the insidious effect social media can have in our lives. Teens who otherwise seem completely knowledgeable and at ease using social media can often be caught unaware of its consequences—for instance, believing that @mentions posted to Twitter are only viewable by the intended recipient. Nuh-uh! Sorry Charlie.

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  2. I hear you, Paul! It can be devastating for kids – and adults – to discover that they are not using privacy or security settings properly and thus, their posts or comments are open to more eyes than they had intended. Not really a lesson you want to learn the hard way!

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  3. My 12-year old son and I heard the NPR story about the corrections office applicant who was asked for his FB password during the interview (http://n.pr/GKDZNZ). We talked about it. I’m hopeful that we’ll find the right balance. He said he wanted a Twitter account. I asked why….not because I’m against it, but I was curious. He said he wants to follow his favorite athletes and tweet to them. 🙂 We’ll probably make a big deal of getting him one for his 13th birthday.

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    1. Hi, Dan – thanks for reading! It’s always difficult to figure out what age is the right age for social media use. I think it depends on the child, but most of them seem to be starting before they are truly ready to handle the responsibility which is scary. Pair that with parents who don’t know anything about social media and can’t guide their kids to safe usage and it becomes a disaster waiting to happen! When my older daughter was in middle school, MySpace was just becoming popular and 7th grade/13 was the age when we let her begin using it. That seemed to be about right for my younger daughter, too, but I find personality/individual characteristics play into it as well…I find I have to monitor my younger one much more than I ever had to monitor my older one – she just tends to have less of a filter about what is appropriate to share! = )

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  4. Social media has definitely caused much debate in its recent rise to mainstream America. Without technology and social media there is no way that we can keep up with the growing times. I agree on the fact that there needs to be more training and understanding on its use and complexities. I would hope that sooner than later, social media curriculum will show up in middle/high schools. Growing up in the generation that taught itself how to use social media, we cannot know everything and have lost touch with certain privacy settings of the sites. As information starts to grow, there needs to be more effort put into informing the youth on how to properly use the social mediums with respect and purpose. Social media will continue to grow, and we cannot continue to ignore the fact that education needs to begin happening on the use of it.

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    1. Good points, Josh. I particularly agree with the idea that specific curriculum needs to show up in our schools to help kids navigate social media and the web, in general.

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