Tip #29 – Teach Your Kids that their Private Parts are Private Despite What They See Online

Apr 03

Offset sexual imagery kids see by teaching privacyOn my eighth birthday, I’d received a light pink bikini as a present from an aunt. While the adults ooh’d and ahhh’d at how cute it was, I feigned gratitude as I my stomach twisted into knots. Me? Wear that little thing? I was finally persuaded to try it on, but then refused to leave the bathroom to let anyone see me. “Yep, it fits,” was all I could muster before twisting the new bikini into a ball and hiding it in the corner of a bathroom cupboard, never to be seen again.

I was, you see, exceedingly modest. Even at the unripened age of eight. And, I felt too exposed – too naked – in anything smaller than a tank bathing suit. Growing up in an ultra-conservative and Catholic household, my mother had taught me and my two sisters to take great care in protecting our youthful bodies from overt display. This, she hoped, would help protect us from being leered at by potential predators and from ever wanting to play “doctor” with the boy down the street. (Which we would never have dreamed of doing.)

Fast forward to today, and this rigid thinking might easily be dismissed as old fashioned and out of touch with the laissez-faire attitude of sexuality. After all, thanks to television, movies, and the internet, a child can access anything from girls in skimpy bikinis to full out pornography with a few typos in a google search (or not). The less supervision in a household, the greater the likelihood a child will be exposed to inappropriate content. Hence, the disturbing stories that pop up every once in a while about young students performing sexual acts in school that, frankly, they should neither know about, nor want to engage in.

Some school systems across North America have resolved to push kids into more robust sex education as the solution for preventing today’s over-exposed kids from taking part in illicit behaviours. Their reasoning is based on the assumption that every kid knows about the birds and the bees (and then some…), so better to learn from a trusted source than a hip hop artist. And, if they don’t, well, just trust us (the school) to introduce every 12-year-old to the concept of fellatio. Uh, really? While I agree with the underlying logic of this thinking, I also believe that kids would benefit from one simple message that seems to have disappeared completely from this discussion. A message that can help prevent them from even wanting to role model what they see online.

Teach them to “Protect your privates.”  I know – has a real ring to it, doesn’t it?

Parents and teachers could use sexual education as a platform to not only teach young kids about sexuality, but to instruct them that, despite the proliferation of naked body parts on screens, their own private parts are, well, private. That is, not for sharing, unless Mom and Dad say it’s okay (like the doctor’s office, bath time). Kids would, in fact, be learning modesty. (Remember that word?)

I’m not calling for a country-wide ban on thongs, nor pleading for a distribution of turtlenecks to be worn by every female. I’m just pointing out the power of the simple message to kids –  keep your private parts private – to help offset the endless stream of sexual messages flooding our kids’ vision.

We can’t stop them from seeing the Victoria’ Secret TV ads that pop up unexpectedly, or LMFAO’s Sexy and I Know It music video proliferating YouTube, nor naked pictures of almost every celebrity of the last decade. (I’m hoping we can prevent them from seeing online pornography, but even that is not a guarantee.) But despite all their exposure, kids are capable of understanding that, although these adults participate in such behaviour, you need to be respectful of your own body’s need for privacy.

As they grow to adulthood, and have developed a context for sexuality, they can make set their own limits for what is acceptable. After all, it happened to me… I now wear a bikini.

Image provided by http://www.graphics-and-desktop-icons.com/cartoon-bikini.html

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Tip #28 Add Google to Kids’ Chores

Mar 06

I am a firm believer of chores for kiddos. I hated doing them as a child, and the good Lord knows, I did plenty of ‘em. Among my four siblings and I, we easily clocked in about five hours of chores on a weekly basis. In fact, it is precisely because I hated them so much that I realize their importance.

I knew over the years that the best way to complete chores was to just get’er done as soon as possible. That way I could carry on, burden-free, with what I really wanted to do (like read Sweet Valley High #17: Love Letters). Furthermore, I wholeheartedly agree with the principals behind chores – you enjoy living in this house, you need to contribute to its upkeep. And, yes, I do pay an allowance in the same way I was paid a stipend for my torturous hours of household duty.

Now that the digital revolution has moved beyond the thrills of being new and exciting, families such as mine have come to recognize some computer tasks as laborious, thankless, and a royal pain in the butt. The novelty of switching on the iPad or laptop to search Google has worn off like the silver coating on a cheap mood ring. In other words, digital sleuthing has become almost as much a chore as running errands (albeit, a very lazy way of running errands).

Questions like: what time does the store open? Where is the hockey game? How much does that video game cost at Wal-mart? require a trip to the closest screen where somebody must type in the requisite topic (sans typos). Furthermore, it is almost always delegated to Mom or Dad, not one of the kids, whose specialty is in video games and YouTube videos, right?

Think again. Kids, as much as adults, need to familiarize themselves with the navigation of the internet. In the very near future, digital tools will be the only vehicles to uncover basic information. When was the last time you looked up a business in the yellow pages? (My kids don’t even know what the yellow pages are.) Based on a recent survey by Media Awareness Network Digital literacy is surprisingly low among kids. They lack basic searching skills and have little or no ability to think critically about the website content they come across.

Why is this? I would venture to say that part of the blame lies in us, the parents. Many of us stifle their online freedoms for fear that little Sally will encounter inappropriate content (of which there is an abundance). However, that excuse can be quite easily refuted when one considers the variety of internet filters available today (including many free options).

I’d always assumed my kids, who are no stranger to the screen, were perfectly capable in any online pursuit. So, I was flabbergasted when I read the survey. Unwilling to believe it, myself, I put my 11-year-old son to the test. One particularly frustrating morning, as I meandered through unknown streets, I asked him to look up an address on my iPhone’s GPS. He was clueless. Later that morning, when I drove him to the wrong location for his hockey practice, and shoved my iPhone at him to find out the correct arena (as I peeled out of the parking lot), he was, again, no help to me. And, this is a kid who owns an iPod Touch.

The survey results proved correct, even in my own household where ownership of Apple products was ridiculously high. Sure, they could find their favourite video games and click from one moronic YouTube celebrity video to the next, but they were incapable of basic online sleuthing skills. The kind of ability that every citizen in the Western hemisphere who wishes to participate in society needs in order to thrive.

I have decided that I will no longer be the “go-to” person to look up times, dates, or locations on my laptop every time a question of that nature arises in our home. Instead, I will encourage (read: command) my oldest son to pry his eyes from whatever zombie he’s shooting on a screen and perform the task, himself. Yes, I am bound to experience more groans, eye-rollings, and “Why can’t you do it, Mom?” replies. But, he will eventually acquire the skills necessary to sift through the loads of online crap to find the golden nugget of information we need. And, I will kindly tell him, as I do when he is forced to practice guitar, load the dishwasher, or get dressed for yet another practice, “You’ll thank me for this one day.”

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Feb 01

There’s never been a better time to be an entrepreneur than now, and our kids will face even greater possibilities for business startups over the next decade. Digital technologies have broken down barriers that previously prevented many people from pursuing their business ideas. From thirteen-year-olds posting comedy sketches on YouTube to traditional book publishers creating apps, the distance from idea to implementation has shrunk significantly.

The downside is the plethora of bad concepts that have materialized into failed products. However, with the increase in failures comes the inevitable increase in successful products. As entrepreneur Kevin O’Connor said (in a Financial Post interview): “You need to come up with a lot of bad ideas before you come up with the great idea.”

We are doing our kids a favour by helping them realize that their favourite digital gadgets are more than entertainment units. They are incredible tools for creating and sharing ideas and products. Having self-published a book, I learned first-hand the changing landscape of an industry that was always very closed to entrepreneurs. New printing technologies and online promotion enable writers to take a concept from story idea to printed book sold on Amazon. Sharing this experience with my children helped them recognize how empowering digital technology can be. If such opportunities were unavailable ten years ago, imagine how many more possibilities will arise in another ten years.

By helping our children explore the possibilities of online technologies, we can encourage them to develop innovation alongside a sense of empowerment. This will prepare them to exploit not only today’s opportunities, but those of the future. Below are some of the ways I encourage my kids to think like an entrepreneur:

  • Talk about digital leaders like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates. Discuss how they changed the face of the virtual and real world.
  • Find articles magazines, newspapers and online sites to share with your kids that explain entrepreneurialism in simple terms or celebrate a young entrepreneur.
  • Ask your kids to come up with cool invention ideas – it doesn’t matter how crazy the idea. Ask them how their invention would solve a problem.
  • Start an Inventor Journal for your kids to keep a record of their ideas, whether it’s a story, video, or product. Pull it out regularly to encourage them to add to it.
  • Talk about how virtual technologies relate to “real” world. For example, explain the pros and cons of technologies like debit cards, Facebook, PayPal, and how they represent real people, real money.
  • Create a video, story, or invention together.
  • Find ways to balance their video game time with online learning opportunities, such as Khan Academy and instructional YouTube videos.

Have more ideas? Share them below.

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Tip #26 – Encourage Kids to Nourish the Web with Authentic, Honest Content

Jan 26

The message to inject truth and integrity into our digital footprint is a simple one. Yet,  the pressure to increase traffic, go viral, or acquire more “followers” is more often the motivation that drives our online presence.

His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, wrote an inspiring letter for the 45th World Communications Day, impelling the young to use the “unprecedented opportunities (of the digital age) for establishing relationships and building fellowship.” This relevant and timely message emphasizes that the new communications technologies can be used to serve the good of the individual and all of humanity.

Recognizing the challenges that young people face online, the pope asks them to “not give in to the illusion of constructing an artificial public profile of oneself.” And, reminds us to build an online presence that derives its worth through integrity, not popularity. To build a cyber space that offers nourishment, rather than a “fleeting attraction.” With the barrage of messages promoting the contrary, this is harder than it sounds.

Certainly, the need to grow popularity is a necessary component of successful online strategies. To ignore this fundamental fact of online business would mean certain failure. However, within this structure there are still plenty of opportunities to share authentic experiences that will build a kinder, more supportive cyber-environment.

In other words, we need to teach our kids a moral code in the “virtual” world that reflects  our “real” world expectations. Can we teach our kids to hold the door open in cyberspace? Hm. Yeah, I think we can. It’s time to start.

Related Posts:

If you have nothing nice to post, don’t post anything at all

Encourage Responsibility behind, and in front, of the camera

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Top 25 Tips for Parents on Internet Safety and Digital Literacy

Jan 01

Get all the handy tips and tidbits right in one spot! The next 26 to 50 tips will start in 2012.

#1 – Show You Care (About Video Games)

#2 – Filter What Your Kids Can See

#3 – No TV in the Bedroom

#4 – If You Have Nothing Nice to Post, Don’t Post Anything At All

#5 – Tell Your Kids the Cost of that Cell Phone

#6 – Get the Kids a Timer

#7 – Take the Kids to the Library

#8 – Get to Know the Video Game Consoles Before Buying

# 9 – Set Rules That Both Parents Can Support

# 10 – Review Before You Go to the Movies

#11 – Get to Know Facebook

#12 – Match Kids’ Screen Time with Active Time

#13 – Parents: Mind Your Own Screen Time

#14 – Interrupt Sitting Time with Movement

#15 – Prepare Your Kids for Gladvertising

# 16 – Update Kids’ Facebook Privacy Settings Regularly

#17 – Encourage Responsibility In Front of Camera and Behind Camera

#18 – Expose Your Kids to Khan Academy

#19 – Offer Guidance and Independence When Kids Research Online

#20 – No TV in the Mornings

#21 – Have the Talk, No Not THAT One, the Money Talk

#22 – Get Comfortable with Saying No

#23 – Talk Reality about the Effects of Reality TV

#24 – Beware of Too Much Free Time for Kids in Screen Time Culture

#25 – Teach Daughters AND Sons to be Critical of Female Portrayals in Media

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Tip #14 Cutting Back on Couch Time will Increase Your Life Span

Dec 22

We all sit on our butts too much these days. Between our office job, Googling, Facebooking, playing video games, and watching TV, few of us can complain that we don’t get enough opportunity to just sit and relax. This habit of parking our rears is apparent through all generations – from young to old. In fact, one of the biggest dangers of the internet and digital technology may be it’s negative effect on our health.

Here are some interesting statistics about the state of our health due to sedentary living, as compiled by U.S.-based organization Medical Billing and Coding:

  • The average North American sits 9.3 hours per day (versus 7.7 hours of sleep);
  • A person who sits more than six hours per day is up to 40% more likely to die within 15 years than someone who sits less than three hours;
  • Those who sit three hours or more per day watching TV are 64% more likely to die from heart disease, and;
  • Of those who watch three hours per day, those who exercise are no slimmer than those who don’t.

The solution to our life-shortening habits is, actually, quite simple. We need to turn off the TV, or whatever screen engages us most, and get off the couch. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend kids include at least one hour of physical activity per day, and adults at least 2.5 hours per week. These may be helpful for some, but how many parents are actually keeping track of their kids’ activity? Probably very few. Rather than wringing hands over the amount of time kids are getting vigorous exercise, parents might be better off keeping track of how many hours their kids are sitting watching TV, YouTube videos, or playing video games. Less time in front of a screen will likely translate to more time on their feet.

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