By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
For generations, parents have been taking note of first steps, first words, and first days of school. But today’s parents also witness a whole new breed of “digital firsts” that our great, great grandparents could never have even imagined.
I saw a “digital first” today for two of our three kids. I picked up my iPhone to check email and noticed it was covered in smudgy fingerprints, which means one of the kids had been playing with it – probably launching angry birds at innocent cartoon pigs. But when I slid the phone’s unlock bar open, a screen popped up showing a text message trail between our 10-year-old son and his 8 year-old brother.
For the record, our kids don’t have phones of their own yet, which – believe it or not – means they’re fast becoming part of the phone-less minority among an increasingly tech-savvy elementary school crowd.
But this week we allowed them to start playing an app called “Words with Friends”. They use my iPhone and the family iPad to battle each other in this virtual game of Scrabble. But this high-tech version of the classic game also allows them to send text messages to each other while they play.
So when I spotted the text trail between the boys, I knew I was seeing their first few steps into texting terrain. For about three seconds, I thought “Awww, look. It’s their very first text message.” It was adorable for about three seconds, until I read down through the trail. Here’s the transcript of their digital exchange:
“Hey fart to you”
“ha! ha! ha! ha!”
“Are you there?”
“I’m very mad. I don’t have good letters.”
“Well poo to you”
“Poo to you, too.”
It’s the kind of texting trail that really makes a mother proud. And it reminded me that not all technological advances elevate the nature of human communication. I’m guessing Robert Frost probably never wrote the words “poo to you” when he was 8 years old.
But to be fair, I can’t blame it all on texting. This same conversation could have easily taken place between the brothers in real life. Words like “poo” and “fart” are comedy gold for boys this age.
This first texting trail makes me wonder what other digital firsts might be on the horizon. Their first Facebook status update? First YouTube video upload? First tweet? Once it begins, is there any way to stuff the digital genie back in the bottle?
Something tells me the answer is no. And that’s what makes me and so many other parents a tad more nervous than our great, great grandparents probably were.
Recently I heard author and social media expert John Acuff say that posting a photo online is like getting a digital tattoo. Once something is out on the Internet, it’s there for life and not even an expensive laser can erase that temporary case of bad judgment.
As Acuff points out on his blog, “Once you post it, you can never delete it. It’s on there forever, traveling across the world on servers you will never have access to.”
He goes on to say that kids don’t realize that college admissions counselors and future employers will be background checking them online (and seeing all those digital tattoos) for years to come.
So as much as I love all things tech, Tom and I are doing our best to keep the floodgates of technology closed a little longer for our kids. In today’s digital world, it’s just far too easy to get in over your head.