Saturday, July 16, 2011

Do You Text and Message?

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Over the past month I have been visiting with my kids in many ways.  These are not my own kids but the kids I work with.  We have been texting and sending messages via Facebook, primarily, as well as visiting in person, but I figure you go where the kids are and that is through their phones.  I can send a letter via the US postal service, but they don't always see those.  I can call but they don't always answer and they almost never get a voice mail (or they don't check them).  When I send a message via Facebook, I usually get an answer, but when I text I always get a response, usually within a few minutes.

I appreciate that the kids are willing to let me participate in their world in this way.  I have made it a point to not write directly on their Facebook page.  I wouldn't want to embarrass them in any way.  I "like" things and I send personal messages but I try not to write on their page unless it is congratulations for something. 

I have created a group in my phone (who knew you could do such a thing) so that when I want them all to know something I can send out one text and they all get it.  I've even created sub-groups so that I can text the youth officers or committees.  Mine is a simple cell phone. This technology is a truly wonderful thing!  Sometimes.

The down side (it's also the up side) of this is that I see everything that they post.  I was not oblivious to the problems that our young people are having on-line or through texting.  I've watched all the news reports and read the articles.  These forms of communication have created whole new avenues for kids to relate to the world.  Some of them are positive and, while we adults may not understand them yet, I believe in the long-run we'll find that they have created some avenues of creativity that did not previously exist.  It's the negative things that I see that concern me.

I see kids that are posting in the wee hours of the morning.  These young people are 12, 13, and 14 years old primarily.  I have to ask myself, as a parent, why are they awake at two and three o'clock in the morning?  Where are their parents?  Isn't anyone monitoring what their kids are doing?  Now, I'm not saying that my son never did this.  I am certain that he did, once in a while.  My concern comes when some of these kids are up every night.  It will be interesting to see if this changes when school starts again, but I know that the reality is that there will be some that it will not matter.  I remember those kids that I went to school with.  I thought it was so 'cool' that they didn't have curfews and bedtimes.  This isn't new.  What is new is being able to communicate at any time and in so many different ways at all times of the day and night.

Perhaps it is because it is so easy to communicate that these young people haven't learned to filter their communication.  Partially because of their age, but also because of the accessibility, these kids are saying things and sharing information that sometimes concerns me.  I have to wonder if their parents or any other adult ever sees what I see.  There are some 'posts' that I would never share with the rest of the world.  They haven't made private what they do.  Where I have decided that only those that I choose can see what I post and I always think about what I put there because I know all my friends and family will see it, some of the kids don't seem to utilize these same techniques.  They write and say whatever comes to mind. 

I have a Facebook page.  I got onto Facebook so that I could see what my son was doing.  It wasn't long before I was befriended by my niece and nephews.  I have been somewhat pleased to see that the lessons and lectures that my brothers and sister-in-laws and I have shared with our kids have paid off and for the most part our kids are careful about what is posted there.  Maybe because they know that if their parents don't see it, the aunts or uncles will.  Now, even Grandma is a friend.  They are monitored.  Believe me, I know that this doesn't mean that our children are model youth.  They just aren't posting it for the world to see.  My son had a bad experience with a former girlfriend who posted on Facebook for all their friends to see.  It was a hard lesson learned.

But maybe some of this type of sharing is a good thing.  When I go back to those friends of mine through school, many of them didn't have the kind of supervision I did.  I see now that many of those kids were the ones who were in trouble quite a bit.  They were looking for someone to set some boundaries.  Maybe this is a new way for some of these kids to reach out and ask for help, a way not previously available.  Not that they would tell us that, if we were to ask.  They probably don't even realize that's what they're doing, but it gives them a way to tell the rest of the world what is bothering them without having to look someone in the eye and tell them. 
This technology, this communication system is still so very new that we haven't learned all the ways to best deal with some of these issues.  It will take time, and we will figure it out.  I have no doubt that we will get better at all of this.  It will just take us a little time and effort to determine how.  In the meantime, the adults in and around these kids lives must help them forge this new trail.  We must remind them and guide them in how best to protect themselves.  We must not close doors, but we must help them learn how to best navigate these new waters.  It's a new route we are traveling.  It's a good route.  We just have to blaze the trail a little bit first, alongside of them. 

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