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Texts Tweets and TV part 3

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Boys Town's Lauran Buddenberg discusses computers, the Internet and where they fit in your child's life.

When you are looking at kids in computer usage, you need to start to also ask some of the big questions. First of all, how old do you think kids should be before they have access to a computer? Two? Four? Six? It's a good question and the answer is as soon as they can push the buttons. When kids are little, and I'm talking certainly before school age, and you let them use the computer for educational games or other things or they have a Webkinz or something similar, if they are on it you should be sitting there with them. When you are looking at the who of computer usage please be aware that kids can stumble onto inappropriate content that is actually frightening for them so you have to be there.

As kids get a little bit older, you can decide how you're going to handle their internet usage but I will tell you very strongly that I think that it is important for parents to monitor usage. How you do that is up to you as a family and some families choose to block content for kids.

After Kate's wonderful experience of her lovely alternate identity, she was running out of the Omaha Public Library, and we decided that we would get the internet at home. At first we were going to go for blocking software. So we bought a program, we brought it home and we decided that we were going to keep the kids from receiving certain things and also from sending out certain information. We had a very hilarious afternoon where the two of us sat there and typed in our address so they couldn't send that and identifying information. We do not want the children to be using any kind of profanity so we decided that we were going to block profanity from coming in and going out there in ensued a two-hour hilarious conversation where we tried to think up every four-letter word we know and it's derivative until finally Roger looked at me and said "This is like something out of a Saturday Night Live skit. I mean I don't believe we're talking about this." We talked about it and at that point the girls were junior high age and I said you know maybe the key for us as a family is not blocking but monitoring.

I'm going to try to in fact get online here and show you a website and it's in your resources that I think is a really good one if you want to monitor. It's called “”. You decide the who: Who can use the computer? How old is your kid going to be? Who needs to be there when it's being used? Then you need to think real hard about the what: What can they use? Now kids will inadvertently wander onto stuff. They will also get in the moment and sometimes their usage is inappropriate. Monitoring their usage is a great favor to kids and I am not a fan of stealth monitoring either. I think you should tell your kids that you're monitoring their usage and you should be clear that you're going to be and you're going to be paying attention to it. How many of you work for employers who monitor your internet usage? If you're working for Boys Town, raise your hand. You know they do as well they should since they are paying for it. We want our kids to learn good rules about where they go and what they see. First of all, because this is our endgame and second of all, because if they get in bad habits with the internet now, they're going to tootle that into a workplace and they're going to lose a job over it. Most workplaces that provide internet are going to monitor you.

We have monitored the kids. I will also tell you in doing so we had an incident where we caught a pretty serious situation. We told the kids we were going to monitor them. “” is a great website because it has a “Tools for Families” page. It talks about keeping your information private. It also talks about keeping children safe online. You can also go to their “Tools for Families” page, and if you scroll you can tell it what you want the tool to do:  Do you want it to monitor? Do you want it to block? Do you want it to filter? You can tell it what technology you want it to work on: email, worldwide web, chat rooms, instant messaging, any kind of technology, pier to pier networks. You can tell it what kind of a system you have. I decide I want to monitor all technology and I'm using a Mac. You hit “find my tools” and it will produce a whole list for you of tools and it's going to give you all kinds of information about those tools. For example, it's going to tell you what it works on and what it does. In general it will give you a hyperlink to the tools so you can go to the tools website and look around. Some of the tools allow you to have a download and use for a certain amount of time to see if it works for you. Please monitor your kids' internet usage. A lot of the tools will let you have a time limit. In other words, you can lock kids off the internet at certain times of day. That's a nice feature. It really helps you with the what question. Back to my story; daughter number two had made a friend at camp and this friend was coming to Omaha to visit and it was close to the holidays. I came home from work one day and I decided to check the log and at that time we were using a tool and I think the name of it was Cyber-snoop. It would give me complete screenshots or screen captures of online conversation. She's online and she's actually at that time instant messaging. I see a screen name I don't recognize and we hadn't checked her buddy list in a while so I was kind of surprised. There is a pretty serious conversation going on in which a young woman was threatening harm to herself and to others. Ironically in typical kid fashion Claire is conducting this conversation while assuring this young woman that she would be okay and her boyfriend would not cheat on her and all this stuff in one window and in another window she was talking to her friend Karen; “over break should I get my hair high-lighted or low-lighted?” That is a quintessential kid moment. We have life or death in one window and we have hair in another window. I mean that is pretty typical.

I looked at that and I thought, heavenly days. I was not angry with her conversation. I could tell from the time and date stamp that it happened a couple of hours before I got home but I was certainly alarmed. We had told the girls we were monitoring and we had also told them that if we saw something of concern we'd be having a conversation about it. I called her downstairs and I pulled up the screen and I said “Claire what can you tell me about this?” She said “Oh mom, that's so and so and I haven't actually met her and I know I'm not supposed to put anybody on my list that I haven't met but she's just really sad and depressed.” I asked if she was depressed according to Claire Buddenberg or depressed as in sees a therapist? She said “Depressed like sees a therapist.”  I told her that I was going to have to call parents and she understood. I did call the parents but let her know she was not in trouble. This wasn’t an angry conversation but I did ask her why she didn't tell me about this right away. It was interesting because she said “I knew that you always come home and look at the log and I figured you'd ask me about it.” This was a young woman who was deeply troubled and had been stalking an ex-boyfriend. I did talk to parents who were very grateful to hear from me. It was a serious situation. We blocked this kid from access for her but we ended up, because of monitoring, having a really good conversation about what do you do when somebody is in trouble? Who do you call? How do you handle it? This is the joy of monitoring your kids' computer usage. You will get a window into their lives if you are sane and calm about it and an opportunity possibly to really help your kid. This same kid develops some confidence in my ability to think through something which believe me, when you have an adolescent, is big. She went off to college and actually called me one day on her cellphone and said I have a friend here who's having a problem and I told him I think you can help.

I think I never would have picked up on this if we hadn't been monitoring. So pay attention to the what. Tell your kids you're monitoring, use it well and let them know what you're doing. You have the who, you have the what and now you need the where. I'm going to tell you right now I think that you should put your family computer in the most public room in your house. I know that sometimes kids have laptops for school but you can also turn in the laptop at the end of the day just like you turn in the cellphone. Figure out the where. When kids have access in their bedrooms all the time they're using it all the time and it's harder for you to monitor what is going on in there. It is the same thing in terms of the when. You can use software to lock them off at certain times of day, particularly with younger ones if you're concerned. You can also use the strategy that a dad I talked to used that I thought was absolutely elegant, brilliant and very good parenting. In their home they keep the wireless router in their bedroom and they simply shut it off. I liked that and I told him that is some good parenting and I'm passing it on. If you know how you're monitoring then you can set up the consequences for inappropriate use. We talked to the girls about profanity. We talked to them about pornography. We also talked to them very strongly about gossip, rumor spreading and mean words. We had occasions when their internet privileges were revoked, at least in the house, for periods of time because they violated the rules. As young adults and I do have one who lets me be her Facebook friend which by the way is better than TV and our friends think so too. It's actually stunningly appropriate. I was really amazed and thrilled as we monitored the girls’ internet usage with some of the neat things their friends did have to say and with the support they gave each other online, with some of the poetry and some of the thoughts that they posted. It's not all bad stuff guys but if you aren't monitoring it you aren't going to know. So who is going to use it? What is acceptable to be on there? Where are you going to keep it? When can they use it? And how are you going to monitor it and what kind of consequences are you setting up?

Yes, the kid who wants his privacy but is tweeting that cracks me up. At one point my daughter asked if I was going to tweet and I said no since my life is not that interesting. I'm also having enough trouble just keeping up with the actual living of it and I would have to do the whole…you know this compulsion I have for proper grammar and spelling it would take me years to tweet. It would not be worth it. Kids do not perceive it this way which is part of the reason we teach them. Also, tell your kids that the digital footprint remains. One of the differences for our kids compared to us is…okay; lots of us if we were going to admit it to ourselves did dumb stuff when we were younger. I grew up in the 70's and that's all I'm going to say about that. I did not have the means, thank you, to etch that in memory in digital space for the viewing pleasure of yet unborn generations but our kids do. You must point that out to them if you have an adolescent, 4th or 5th grade on up in the house. They can't take it back and they can't get rid of it. It doesn't erase and pointing it out frequently is a good idea. I would suggest making use of new stories that also talk about that.

They don't believe you? You know what; it has been an interesting week in cyberspace. I would tell them to go on any of the major news outlets. Go ahead and take a look whether you're looking at,, and you're going to find articles that relate to technology and what is going on in the world. In fact, I was sharing with someone before the presentation and going back to the cellphone thing, something I picked up from, I think it was Fox News. A new tool for iPhones called the ugly meter. Think about cyber-bullying. With this app, you can plug a picture in and it rates the symmetry of a face and it tells you how ugly you are on a scale of 1 to 10. They think this is funny and ha, ha, ha, but picture this in the hands of 14 years old girl.

I would say to point that out to your kids, take them online and show them but you want to go to news websites and look for technology updates because most of them are going to be divided into sections. You go to the tech news area and that is where you're going to find some of these things. So think about it.

What do you share with your kids is a very good question. First of all, going back to the thing I said when we first started, no one knows your kid like you do and no one loves your kid like you do. If your instinct is that this is news your kid is able to hear then I would share it. I think it's important for kids to know what's going on with technology and how it is being used and I think it's important to share with them what the downsides are. I would also say while you're sharing with them, a great thing to do is say “I read this article, will you take a look at it?”  The most powerful question you can ask a kid is what do you think about that? Just ask your kid, “what do you think about it” and open the window for some conversation because what you'll also get is a little hint and tip for them about how they would do it differently. If you saw something like this online, what would you do? Who would you call? Brainstorm with them and do some problem solving and find out if they have strategies they'd use and let them know if you want to weigh in. It is very hard to protect our kids from this kind of information and it's amazing just how fast it spreads because the kids are wired in. Don't be afraid to open up the conversation. Your kids may be doing much better thinking about this than you realize but you just haven't asked them yet. If their thinking is a little hoo-hoo then that gives you an opportunity to ask if they have considered some other options. I wouldn't hesitate to share your feedback.

The issue of pornography in the internet is a situation where, depending on the age of your kid, I might look at blocking some content as well as filtering or monitoring. If you have a fourth or fifth grader, the odds, and it's scary, that your kid has been exposed somewhere to pornography are actually fairly high. For one thing, kids download porn into their MP3 players and show it on the playground at school. It is not unusual. So you want to be clear what your family values are concerning pornography and that if they see it then they need to turn it off and come and get you. Nobody is going to be angry or upset about it but that somebody gets hurt when those images are made. You also want to really help your kids know that if they see kids in pornographic images online they need to shut the screen off, find you or call you somewhere because somebody is being hurt and needs help. As they get older you need to start asking them about it. Have they seen it? What do they think of it? Be clear about your values.

There's really no reason for a fourth, well anybody, but a fourth or fifth grader to be seeing naked people on the internet. There's no reason. As we all know, if kids are roaming the world-wide web sometimes you come across stuff that you aren't looking for. My first day at Boys Town and I wanted to look-up something related, by the way, we don’t look at that stuff around her. I was doing some presentation for teenage girls and I wanted to look-up something related to Seventeen Magazine. I typed it into the search engine and I thought, man this page is taking a long time to load. I went and got a cup of coffee, I came back and I had to report myself. Justifiably so. There are a lot of websites that are named in ways that fool kids. We just need to tell our kids and it is helpful to tell them that this is not an angry conversation but here is how we feel about it and here is what we want you to do when you run into it. Let us know. The whole issue with kids and pornography exposure could be entirely different at home with kids but it is part of what happens when we send kids out in the digital age. So, if you are monitoring you will pickup if they have seen it and you will pickup if they were on the site for 30 seconds. In other words, if they clicked, it popped up and they said wo-ho, moving on or if they spent two hours on there. In which case, you're having a conversation. One thing I will tell you one of the reasons kids fail and fear to tell their parents when they run into stuff, whether it's via their cellphone or whether it's on computer, is they are afraid that they will simply get immediately shut down from the privilege of use. The calmer you can stay and the more questions you ask and the kind of saner your consequences are, the more, going back to what we said in the beginning, the technology can actually facilitate conversation, bring you together, and help you work through some things as opposed to setting up a wedge between you.

It does complicates parenting. My folks did not have to deal with any of this and in the case of my husband he grew up in Gothenburg, Nebraska and they were on a party line. I mean he didn't even have his own phone, which by the way he doesn't hesitate to point out to the kids, who basically hear “blah, blah, blah” every time he talks about it. The last thing we're going to cover is television. I love this quote from Ernie Kovacs "Television: A medium: so called because it is neither rare nor well done" which I thought really says it all. Kids spend more time with television content than any other form of technology. Most of it is not spent actually watching TV in real-time. Kids are watching TV online. They're watching TV on their smartphones and their cellphones but they are still watching television content. They might be on Hulu but they're watching television content. Once again going back to your hopes and dreams for your kids and who you want your kids to be, please know first of all that there are more televisions in this country in homes than there are homes that have indoor plumbing. Did you know that? There are people who don't have indoor plumbing but they have a TV. With satellite, yes with a dish. Kids on average are consuming over four hours of television content daily. TV is the area where kids are spending a lot of their time. More than 75% of prime-time shows have sexual content in them and that's not even necessarily counting premium channels or paid TV. I'll never forget talking to a dad who was horrified. He said that his six year old came to him the other day and said “Dad, I know everything I need to know about sex.” This came as quite a surprise to his father who asked how did you learn about it. The kid said “I have three words for you dad, HBO.” This is not a good source of information. It might also interest you to know, when we are thinking about our kids and the fact that we want them to be responsible, to practice their faith, to be good citizens, to be honest, respectful and to have some integrity that there is one drinking scene every 22 minutes on television.

Adolescents should not be drinking. It's: a) illegal and b) there was a short item in the paper this week about the damage it does to adolescent brains. If we want them to be this, we need them to be away from alcohol and substances and there's a lot of substance use on television. Yes it was in the Nations' shorts earlier this week. So who? You need to decide how old your kids are going to be before you start to put them in front of TV. I will openly admit, I don't know that I could have raised two children without Disney sing along videos. It was that extra half hour of sleep that everybody craves. The American Academy of Pediatrics, and you have their website listed in your resources, has an entire report and it's very good. I suggest go to the website and look at it and their policy statement on media education. Watch what your kids are watching is the gist of it. When kids spend a lot of time sitting in front of the tube, they're not getting balance. They aren't moving around. They aren't physically active and they aren't interacting necessarily with other people. They tend to not do as well in school. Too much TV time is not good for kids. You need to think about the what in terms of content. Now it's virtually impossible for any of us to actually raise a family, support that family and keep track of all the content on television. Back in the day, there were three channels in Omaha and in my husband's case in Gothenburg there were two when the wind was blowing the right direction. He says literally that was it. There was no TV out there but there's a lot of TV now.

I gave you a few resources on your list to look at that I think you will find are helpful if you are wondering what's going on with TV and I don't have time to watch it. The Parents' Television Council is an excellent resource. It will rate shows for you. If your kid wants to watch something or has been watching something and you don't know what it is, go online and check it out. You can find out. I really like Plugged In from Focus on the Family. Your coming from a faith base. They track all kinds of media. They track television, movies, video gaming and music and make the internet your friend in this regard. You can go online and take a look at quite a bit there. So decide what is ok and then decide when. I strongly suggest limiting TV time. When you all are getting together for a meal or when your family is together set up some TV free zones. Turn it off. There are many people who have it on for background noise but it does distract you from talking to each other. Turn it off. When your kids are younger in particular, have them come to you and say what they want to watch and why and then check it out. If you notice a problem with your kid's behavior after too much television, limit it. We noticed ironically enough that the girls acted like surly bees when they were little after watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and we narrowed it down. We didn't know what it was about that show but they would fight with each other and they would argue with us and so we did away with it.

I will also tell you that the vast majority of the kids who have TVs in the home, which is every kid, 71% of these kids have television sets in their bedrooms. You may be looking at me and thinking ‘my kid has a TV set in his room’. I would challenge you to go home and remove the television set from your kid's room. It keeps them up at night. They have access to content after hours and you have no way to have a conversation with them about it. Kate came home when she was in fifth grade and asked if she could have a TV set in her room. We said no. She replied that all her friends had TV sets in their room and I actually uttered the famous mom words “Well, if all your friends jumped of a bridge, would you?” I actually said that. Somewhere my mother heard me and was proud. I checked it out and I discovered in fact that all her friends did have TV sets in their rooms and I came back to her and I said “Kate I owe you an apology. Yes, in fact all your friends do have TVs in their rooms and I'm sorry I didn't believe you.” Her reply: “Great so can I have a TV set in my room?” My answer was no, but thanks for asking. At that point we had weeping and gnashing of teeth and she brought up her dad and me dad a TV set in our room. I do believe that rank has privilege but I was willing to go to the mat on that one and told her not anymore we don't. I used to think ooh boy, when we get these kids out of the house I'm getting a flat screen for the bedroom but we haven't put it back in the bedroom. We actually discovered we didn't need it in there either and the kids never had TVs in their rooms.

And interestingly enough, as young adults, Kate doesn't have one in her room in her apartment and Claire has opted not to have one in her dorm room at college. I was really kind of surprised. She said that  there's a TV out in the common room in the sorority so why would she need on in her room to distract from studying. It's okay if your kid has been having a TV in his room to go in there and take it out. Go for it. Strike a blow and tell him no and take that TV out of there. He'll think you're uncool. He already thinks you're uncool. You're not going to lose anything. Now think about the where of TV. The American Academy of Pediatrics really does strongly suggest that you do not have that kind of media access in a kid's room. Here's another thing, if a kid has a TV in his room or her room, why would she need to come out and have a conversation with you? If your goal is the face to face, is the practicing your faith, is some conversation in helping your kids be responsible and respectful, does having a TV in the bedroom with access to it all the time really accomplish that for you? If it doesn't, make a change and figure out then what your consequences are but don't be afraid to do it.

The other thing I'm going to tell you is just remember that parenting, particularly in a digital age more than any other time, is going to take time. We want to talk to our kids about what we're doing and why. Instruct, share what is going on in the news and tell them why you're setting up some of the policies you are. Get their input on that. Don't be afraid to monitor what they are doing. You are the parent. It is sometimes a drag. I will really admit it but you're the one who's going to have to do it. Does it take us longer and do we have more to keep track of now than our parents did? Yes we do but if we want to launch kids who are good people and savvy users of the digital age, then we're going to have to monitor. Encourage your kids. Use the technology in a way that brings you together and doesn't pull you apart. I think you're going to find that if you go back and look at these forms of technology. Figure out the who, what, when, where and how then gather your family and make sure your kids know what the policies are and model them. I think you'll find that you can get a handle on this. There's an excellent book that we're carrying now in the press that I cannot recommend strongly enough and it is called CyberSafe. It's actually published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It has in the appendices a family media policy example in there. It has a whole glossary of what those terms mean when your kid is texting if you have ever wondered and where to get additional information. The better we arm ourselves with the knowledge, we pay attention to what they're doing and we keep the lines of communication open, you can tame the technology beast and you can really help your kid become the person you want him or her to be. that is all I have for you this evening. I really want to thank you for your time. If you have questions, feel free to come down and ask. I just want to encourage you to go home and use technology well and enjoy your kids.

Thank you very much.