Teach your kids to embrace – not fear – the power of the internet

Yesterday I participated in a Twitter party hosted by @TheOnlineMom * to discuss the questions:

How much do we trust our kids online?
Can we monitor them closely and build trust?

The focus of the discussion was, as the topic questions hint at, how do we keep our kids safe? How do we protect them from all of the evils lurking out there waiting to swoop in and take advantage of them? Perhaps the biggest question, though, was: How do we protect our kids from themselves online?

It was a great discussion (you can see it at #TheOnlineMom), but it reminded me a lot of a not so pleasant PTO meeting about kids online that I attended a couple of years ago, when my kids had just started high school.  I’m not sure what I was expecting from the meeting, but you can probably imagine my horror when I realized that the basic point of the meeting was for internet safety experts to tell us how evil the internet is and that unless we did something our kids would end up dead in a ditch somewhere at the hands of a sexual predator.

OK, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. The focus of the meeting was indeed the evils that lie in wait for our kids, and what we as parents should – MUST – do to protect them. You can see much of what they talked about on the district’s Internet Safety Resources for Parents page.

I had a hard time sitting still through this and not speaking up as they brought out negative after negative (after negative). I waited until the Q&A and then asked what I thought was a reasonable question: Do you (the school district or the presenters) have any related presentations that describe the positive opportunities the internet provides to our kids?

It wasn’t the first time – I’m sure it won’t be the last – that people looked at me like I had two (or seven) heads.

A big part of the problem, as I saw it then, was that so few of the parents in the meeting actually used the internet themselves. A case of ignorance breeding a deep fear of the unknown. Amazingly, I saw some of the same thing last night in the discussion, comments like “I hope my kids never hear about Facebook” (from parents of very young kids) to the question, “Many parents ask whether there is any learning value in social networks for teens, what do you think?”

Here’s how I responded to that last question:

Social networks – virtual or real life – are the primary way that everyone learns, teens included.

Unlike that PTO meeting all those years ago, the discussion last night also included quite a few voices of (what I would call) reason, parents who see more than just the potential dangers. But even so, there was very little discussion of the power of the internet in the hands of our kids, especially teenagers arguably going through the most potentially creative time of their lives.

What if, instead of simply warning our kids about the dangers of the internet, monitoring (or trying to) their every keystroke, and telling them they can’t do this or that, we start by showing them what they CAN do online, how they CAN use all of the incredible tools available to accomplish what they want to accomplish. All of the incredible places they can go online, all the things they can learn, and everything they can share with the world (besides those racy photos or gossipy rants)?

As I shared with the group last night, my job as a parent is not to protect my kids from the world, it is to teach them how to protect themselves. Not just in a “defensive” way, but by taking the offensive, understanding the world so they can go out and make their own mark.

Fear, and caution, have their place. But you can’t let them rule your life. This is what we should be teaching our kids.

* If you are a parent of pre-college kids and are looking for a great resource for dealing with technology as it relates to your kids, you should make The Online Mom one of your regular stops on the web.

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Be excellent to each other (thoughts on Ubuntu!)

I had been reading up on Ubuntu (the operating system) when I came across ubuntu!: An Inspiring Story About an African Tradition of Teamwork and Collaboration (the book) at the library. It was obvious from the subtitle that this was not a book about the OS, but the title pulled me in to at least take a look.

At first I thought it was a true story, perhaps an extended case study, since it was in the new non-fiction section. It turns out, though, that it is actually a work of didactic fiction, a story created by the authors to make a point. That point being that at work we all seem to forget that our co-workers are human, that they aren’t just there as “cogs in the machine”, and that we all need to start respecting our fellow workers as people, even if the work they perform isn’t (yet) worthy of our respect.

Or as those two great philosophers Bill Preston and Ted Logan once said, “Be excellent to each other.”

This point is made through the application of the African tradition known as ubuntu, brought to (stereo)typical big box corporate America by a young South African man working at the company while an MBA student at a local university. The short definition of ubuntu is

a philosophy that considers the success of the group above that of the individual

Here is a more detailed description, as given by Simon (the young South African student) early on to John, his overly stressed and on the verge of failing manager:

Ubuntu…is about teamwork and brotherhood. It is finding that part of you that connects with other people and bringing it to life…. When you struggle, the Ubuntu in me reaches out to give you a hand. If you wander into my village with nothing to eat, our villagers will provide you with food. Why? Because at the deepest level we are all brothers and sisters…. If one of us hurts, we all hurt.

The rest of the story revolves around John’s learning journey, his epiphany, and the sharing of this new knowledge with the rest of the company.

If you are looking for engaging characters, a suspenseful plot, and a twist at the end, this is not the book for you. As William Gibson said recently, didactic fiction rarely results in deep characters or plot. And that’s fine, because the point of this story is to make a point.

For someone open to the idea of an engaging workplace, where each person is respected as a human first, and only then viewed as an employee, the story told in Ubuntu! will provide some insight into the possibilities. Ironically, these are the people who least need to read this book, because they probably already feel this way.

On the other hand, the people who could most benefit from this book – the managers who treat their employees like, well, employees – will most likely read this book and dismiss it as “touchy feely crap”.

The power of Ubuntu is, I’m afraid, one of those things that you have to experience to truly appreciate.

Social Media + Family

I’ve blogged for many years, shared photos on Flickr and video on YouTube, and more recently joined Twitter and Facebook. Finding the line for any parent is challenging, but as the parent of an autistic son the question of how much – and what – to share about my family in public (the blog, twitter) and even in “private” (facebook) takes on a whole different dimension.

Later this week, Chris Heuer from Social Media Club is bringing their Fall Tour 2010, Social Media + Family, to St. Louis to talk about these questions and more.  To get an idea of how the conversation may go, take a look at Amani’s recap of the Atlanta event. To get ready, St. Louisan Todd Jordan (aka @tojosan), a parent and speaker at this week’s event, has posted his “bio of an online Dad“.

I don’t know how much, if at all, the discussion will go towards families of kids with disabilities, but even if it doesn’t go there at all  I have a feeling it is going to be a great evening of conversation and a great excuse to get out and socialize in person (as if an excuse is ever really needed).

Kids, sacrifice, and the master’s journey

I don’t remember exactly where I read this, and I’m paraphrasing a bit, but this little anecdote captures the essence of mastery, and the sacrifice that often goes with it:

A world class, and world famous, dancer was approached by an excited fan following a performance.

“You were fantastic!” the fan said. “I’d give half my life to be able to dance like that.”

“That’s exactly what I did,” responded the dancer.

Ian competing on TrampIf you are the parent of a child involved in athletics at the elite level, or an adult who was one of those kids, you know exactly what this dancer is talking about. My own personal experience as a parent is with gymnastics.

My son was (is) very talented on the trampoline (he was a national champion at his age / level), but when it came time to make the move into “elite”, he recognized that he wasn’t willing to make the sacrifice demanded of that level. We know plenty of others who chose to make that sacrifice.

(As an aside, there is quite the business in “online education” for those young athletes who are unable to attend school – middle, high – because of their intense training schedule.)

The hardest part of embarking on the master’s journey is the knowledge of the sacrifices you must make, the things that you must give up or resign yourself to never experience. That is why I think it is so much easier for kids – or younger people – to commit themselves to that journey.

As parents, we have a responsibility to make sure that our kids have a “childhood”. Many times this takes the form of making sure they are “well rounded”, and don’t spend too much time on any one thing. In other words, setting up roadblocks on the master’s path.

How much of this is because we really think this is best for our kids, and how much of it is an expression of our own fear of the tough journey?

My life is my masterpiece

Just inside the entrance to the Art of Living Building in Downtown St. Louis is the following quote:

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between

his WORK and his PLAY
his LABOR and his LEISURE
his MIND and his BODY
his EDUCATION and his RECREATIONS.

He hardly knows which is which.

He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing.

To himself, he always seems to be doing both.

I write this in at the beginning of every new notebook I start, so it is always there to remind me of something that is all too easy to forget:

My life is my masterpiece.

Like any artistic process, living a good life requires a bit of effort on your part. But isn’t a little bit of effort to create a good life worth all that it gives back?

Chris Brogan on work AND play

I have a feeling that the question of work/life balance is going to be a consistent theme here, I know it is in my life.

In this video, Chris Brogan tells us of the importance of both work AND play.  Even if you love your work, are passionate about it, and are giving it your all; even if when you think of free time you think of doing that work because it is still so much fun; you still need to take a break every now and then to recharge.  That’s play.

Balance is BS? It all depends on how you define “balance”

In his book, Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi has a section entitled “Balance is BS”.  The “balance” he is referring to is the work/life balance that so many people talk about.  If you hadn’t read the rest of the book, or if you don’t know anything about Keith, you will likely be thinking, “This guy must be some kind of crazy workaholic.”

But once you understand how he looks at balance, you realize that he may be a “workaholic”, but he’s far from crazy.  Consider this quote on the subject from his blog last summer:

But you’ve also probably heard or read me say that balance is BS – that if you’re living a life driven by genuine relationships, where you are constantly being yourself, it’s a lot harder to separate personal and professional into their own tidy boxes. This idea of “balance” we read about in newspapers – usually followed by a statistic about grueling American hours and a thumbs-up to the French 35-hr work week – also seems to be driven by the idea that work is inevitably bad and unpleasant. Happy at … work!?! Incroyable!

Seems to me that Keith has discovered one of the secrets of the Art of Living.