Tuesday, November 29, 2011
We have rules when it comes to technology. Unfortunately, sometimes just knowing that leads to a bit of complacency on our part (the parents, I mean). And other times, even those limits aren't enough to spare us some lessons.
Let me just say that we have two daughters, ages 9 and 12. We have one computer that lives in the kitchen where I spend most of my time, at least when the girls are home. There are parental controls on the computer, but they honestly aren't clever enough to let the girls use certain sites that are perfectly safe, so from time to time I let them use my logon so they can get around the really dorky restrictions. But only when I'm in the kitchen.
Both girls have their own iTouch devices with a free texting app. Lola, my 9 year old, doesn't have any other friends who have the ability to text, so she's pretty much out of luck but it doesn't seem to bother her. She'd rather play iPhyzzle or Angry Birds, anyway. Eve, the 12 year old, texts her friends all the time and knows that either Bubba or I will perform surprise spot-checks to read text messages on a whim. Neither of the girls is allowed to have their iTouch upstairs without express permission since we have wi-fi at home and these devices can let them surf the 'net. At night, the iTouches live in the "technology box" on the kitchen counter.
So, yeah, I feel fairly secure.
Yesterday I had to run downtown to get the dog from the groomer. Both girls had just arrived home from school and Lola was changing for basketball practice. I decided to leave the girls at home to have a snack while I went out to get the dog - I would be gone for 20 minutes, maximum. The rules were this: no screen time (TV, computer, iTouch), no sweets. I was fairly certain that if either of those rules was violated, one of the girls would rat the other one out. As I was opening the garage door, Eve called out, "Mom, can I just check my email really quick? D was supposed to email me about the assignment we're working on."
I gave her permission to check her email. But only that. Again, Lola would take immense pleasure in throwing Eve under the bus if she strayed.
So imagine my surprise when, two hours later, Bubba calls and tells me that Eve has joined some social networking site. HUH? When? How?
It turns out that, while checking her email, Eve discovered a message from one of her school friends inviting her to join this group where they can all socialize. Seeing the email addresses of several other classmates, Eve clicks on the link to this site. She swears she didn't go so far as to sign up, but somehow as soon as she enters the site, her entire email contact list is snagged by this site and emails go out to everyone she knows, telling them she has just joined this site (Zorpia.com) and would they like to, too?
Bubba and I have some questions about whether or not Eve signed up for the site, but that's not the point. The point for us is that Eve didn't really understand the implications of what she was doing. Bubba sat with her and showed her around the site, pointing out the advertisements for "Find Hot Local Singles" and "Work from Home" scams. He explained that there are many of these kinds of sites around who use you for your email contact list and are not safe places for kids to build profiles.
Ultimately I am grateful that this happened, if only so that we could refine our guidelines for the girls.
First of all, if you go to a site that asks for your entire birthdate, month/day/year, that's a red flag.
If, upon determining that you are a minor, it doesn't tell you to get parental permission, that's a red flag. (The Terms of Service for this particular site says in teeny tiny letters that you have to be 16 to sign up, but even after Eve's birth year was entered, it didn't flag this or disable her account - hmmmm.)
If part of the registration process asks you what your sexual orientation is, that's a red flag.
If the site offers, as part of its main objectives, matches or dates or connections with people you don't already know, that's a red flag.
Before you join any site for any reason, check with Mom and Dad.
Thank goodness this site actually did SPAM all of Eve's contacts, or Bubba and I might not have discovered what was going on. It's questionable whether Eve would have actually had the opportunity to use this site anyway, given that the computer is in the kitchen, but I wonder how many of Eve's classmates have successfully created profiles on this site and opened themselves up to predators of all kinds.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Monday, November 21, 2011
I officially broke the seal on Christmas last Friday and purchased the first holiday gift of the season. I didn't really mean to, but this particular item struck me as something Bubba and the girls would get a huge kick out of. So I got it and brought it home. It is sitting in my underwear drawer, buried beneath a pile of boot socks and in order to diminish the paranoia that someone will find it, I suppose later today I'll go dig out the wrapping paper and ribbons and Christmas labels and camouflage it for real.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Planet Explorers Walt Disney World: A Guidebook for Kids
The park is organized in to different areas in this book, each with its own list of restaurants, rides and attractions. Schaefer offers a wealth of good information about each ride, having devised a way to catalog them for kids of all ages (S=scary, D=dark, A=awesome, T=thrilling, W=wet). She also posts height restrictions so you can skip the ones your kids are too small to ride without much drama.
Links to the other two reviews are here for NYC and here for Chicago. The books all follow a similar format, so the reviews are quite similar as well. That being said, if you are planning a family vacation anytime soon, Laura has written Planet Explorer books for Disneyland, Disney cruises and Philadelphia as well as the three I reviewed. Do yourself a favor and find one that fits your travel needs.
Friday, November 11, 2011
Thank goodness for AJ Jacobs. This is a man who knows how to write for attention-defunct brains. His chapters are short and concise and sprinkled throughout with humor (to keep my monkey mind on task), and I can sit down to read one and complete it in a relatively short time, limiting the amount of interruptions, both external ("Mom! I need my jeans!") and internal (I probably ought to throw that load of laundry in pretty soon.)
Sunday, November 06, 2011
Wednesday, November 02, 2011
As I puttered around the house doing laundry and tidying the kitchen and fluffing pillows yesterday morning, my local NPR station was on in the background. The host was interviewing Barry McCaffrey of Clinton-era war-on-drugs fame and I found myself intrigued. I recall him taking a very different tack from the Nancy Reagan "just say no" campaign, but couldn't really remember many of the specifics, so my ears perked up and I slowed my tasks down in order to pay closer attention.
It is easy to pay attention to General McCaffrey, given that he is a career military man and speaks with 100% authority. He has very strong opinions on seemingly every subject in the Universe and speaks about them with no equivocation whatsoever. When callers or the host disagreed with him, he was not condescending, but so sure of himself that I wonder if he often causes others to question their own rationale. I found myself agreeing with him on a few issues and disagreeing about others, but glad I wasn't in the room with him admitting my dissent.
Until he began talking about the drug policy his task force crafted for the Office of National Drug Control Policy during his time in the Clinton White House. It started innocently enough, with him advocating for developmentally appropriate approaches to drug resistance education. Okay, fair enough. I can see the logic in that.