Keep the Computer in a Public Place at Home
Even if our teenagers are St. Peter or Imam Ali walking on earth, they are teenagers: They are susceptible to mischief and vulnerable to those who would harm them. I think it is reasonable to have the computer in a central place in the home so that what our kids are doing online is visible to the whole family, especially the parents. That includes laptops--no laptops in the bedroom. If what my kid is doing online should not be seen by my eyes, then it should not be done.
Facebook, but with a Parental "Friend"
So many people are on Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking sites, and I know that soon, very soon, my daughters will be asking to go on Facebook. I am quite torn about this: Most of my friends and family are on Facebook, and thus far, I have resisted the temptation to join them (for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is lack of time). Yet, it can be a nice forum to keep in touch with friends and family and share photos and messages. There is a positive value to social networking sites. So, what to do? Well, I know that I will probably cave and let them have an account, but with a number of conditions.
First, they cannot put whatever they want on their Facebook page. Second, only their real friends should be given access to their Facebook information, and I reserve the right to know who these friends are. And their Facebook page is subject to random "spot inspections" to make sure there are no strangers who have asked to be their friends. It will be a tricky situation, because I'm sure my kids will feel that I'm invading their privacy. But I hope to avoid this feeling by explaining to them why I need to check up on them—not because I don't trust them, but because I know of the temptation around them.
Social networking can be a tremendous time sink, and it is of the utmost importance that Facebook not take away from schoolwork. If their grades begin to suffer because of Facebook, then ... poof! The account disappears into thin air. A good idea is to let the children have a Facebook account with me as a "friend." That way I can keep a loving eye on my baby's online activities ... and I can be "hip" at the same time.
Cell phone? Yes, but with Limitations
A cell phone can be a life-saver: If something were to happen to my child, I want her to have a way to communicate with me and my wife immediately. But cell phones can be another portal for danger, especially with the cell phones of today. They are not just phones. They are internet browsers, cameras, MP3 players, video players, televisions, and video cameras. Now I would not want to make my daughter the laughing stock of the school by getting her a cell phone with minimal capability. (But she won't get the latest Blackberry either ... that's for me!). Thus, the same issues apply to the cell phone: She can have one, but there will be limitations on who she can call, text, send photos, etc. And, again, the phone is subject to random inspections, just to be sure that the people in her contacts folder are people we know and trust.
Of course, this is going to be a work in progress, and I know there will be rough patches along the way. Still, I think my generation has an advantage over my parents' generation when it comes to raising high-tech kids. I know what it is like growing up in America--something my parents did not experience. Thus, I can relate to some of the pressures they are facing. And, although I am not a computer specialist, I am still quite familiar with the ins and outs of technology (I am thoroughly addicted to my Blackberry), and thus when I am talking to my child, hopefully we will both be speaking the same language. Again, something that was not true with my parents.
At the end of the day, I think a very important component of this is open, honest communication with our kids about how challenging it is to be a kid today. They should know that all this fretting over their online and cellular lives is out of love for them; we are not trying to torture them. And, we as parents must learn to trust our children, especially if we have done all that we can to instill spiritual, moral values in them. But still, kids will be kids. Thus, I will operate with an age-old principle: Trust, but verify. I may be a dumb parent, but I am not stupid, either.