Expert presses parents to set online example
Media studies professor Devorah Heitner talks about the dangers of texting and driving. at a seminar for parents March 11 at Twin Groves Middle School in Buffalo Grove. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 21, 2013 9:58AM
BUFFALO GROVE — Buffalo Grove parents were advised last week that there is little they can do keep up with the speed of their children’s Internet prowess.
But experts in the digital world still encourage parents to set rules.
This was the simultaneously alarming and encouraging message that a crowd of more than 100 parents heard from Dr. Devorah Heitner, a professor of media studies at Lake Forest College. The mother, blogger and teacher spoke on March 11 at Twin Groves Middle School in Buffalo Grove about the frightening speed at which children, through their mobile devices, can unwittingly endanger themselves or deceive their guardians.
Heitner described how, in this evolving battle, parents can still lead by example. She said the key is to set clear boundaries, enforce them and then obey those boundaries themselves.
“They actually do want rules,” Heitner said. “Don’t let them play you like that.”
Detailing ways to set the appropriate example, Heitner first noted that it’s important parents encourage an active lifestyle outdoors.
To ensure children are interested in recreational opportunities other than YouTube and video games when they get older, she motivated parents to go outside and be active.
“Take advantage of that opportunity right away, get them out there,” Heitner said. “Before they hate you, when they still idolize you.”
The same approach applies to getting kids to put down their phones during family meals. Put your device down, too, she said. Heitner explained that children notice their parents checking email during breakfast, which can result in teens thinking it’s OK to text their friends at dinner.
The obsession over cell phones can be reduced before it begins, she added. To exemplify this, Heitner recommended parents refrain from calling and texting constantly or geotracking their whereabouts.
“Make sure that the over-communication isn’t from you,” she said. “Let them have space.”
Noting that texting while driving is unsafe and illegal in some places, Heitner pressed parents to send that message to their high school children. And don’t text while driving either, she told parents.
“If they ever see you do it, you are so busted,” Heitner said. “It is so much harder.”
Heitner’s other recommendations include:
• If snooping on a teen’s texts, “you’ll probably be really bored,” she said, and be prepared to be caught.
• Teach children how delicately they should treat the posting of their photos on the Internet. Set that example by asking children for permission before loading their photos to a public account. When they see that you treat their image with respect, Heitner said, they will understand its value, and the value of others’ images as well. “Their friends are constantly photographing them,” Heitner said. “They need to learn an etiquette about photography.”
• Taking away a phone or tablet as a form of punishment will convey a serious message, but keep their perspective in mind, too. Heitner noted that when a parent takes away a teen’s phone, that teen is also losing a diary, a scrapbook, a music collection, a photo album and the connection to his or her friends.
Heitner also took a few questions from the audience about blogging sites, how to track hashtags and how to avoid pornographic sites that have innocuous addresses. She encouraged the audience to believe that their children can learn to welcome guidance and boundaries, if they see their parents living with them first.
“Let it start with you,” she said. “I know this is hard.”