Charette: Parents beware

Can you name what these items have in common: 1-800-BAD-DRUG,, Slim Away weight loss belt, and dusting slippers? They are all featured commercials on daytime television. I love to paint rooms in our home (but am a horrible painter) and when I paint, I like to have the TV on for entertainment.

Last month while painting the basement and being amused and mortified by commercials, I caught a truly informative news piece during daytime TV. A parenting "expert" was talking to a morning news host about how to keep children safe on social media applications parents may or may not be aware they are using. Her advice caught my ear as there are iPods both with and without camera features in this home owned by the pre-teen set (12, 11 and 10 year olds).

I'm painting and I'm listening; listening and painting. My takeaway from the morning-show segment: parents need to be closely monitoring the information children send out to the world via social media. The host, obviously not yet a parent or a parent of young children, countered her expert guest, "Isn't that like reading a child's diary?"

What the expert hit the host (and me) over the head next with was this: Wake Up! A diary is for a person's own use; social media is for the world to see. I nodded my head in the manner someone who didn't know something before and just learned it would do to seem smart in front of my painting posse of Peeka, Boo, Fluffy and Shaq. The dogs and cats agreed: I had to get more familiar with my children's iPods.

Getting into the trio of iPods is easy; they have no passcode protection anymore. None of the three iPods are texting-enabled so, silly me, I didn't think they could communicate with the outside world outside of email. I envisioned iPods as jazzed-up Walkmans; used for listening to music and maybe watching a movie bought with an iTunes gift card.

Checking on the first iPod: no troubles to be found. This iPod contains downloaded games and music; even though it does have a camera. The second iPod does not have a camera (the poor, poor owner) and is filled with games and only games. No red flags.

Camera-enabled iPod 3 is the iPod the parenting expert is talking about. The screen is full of apps, most of which I haven't heard of. I'm not that far out of the loop; I Facebook and tweet too, but looking at that iPod screen left me feeling very confused.

Baby steps, baby steps, I'd figure this out one app at a time. Instagram was my first victim. My child went from having a public account (yikes) with upwards of 150 followers to a private account with 23 followers. Why does it matter? Instagram is more like Instanightmare: every person following a user sees every photo he or she comments on. It's a chain of interactions to rival a DNA sequence.

Likewise, every user a person is following (child was following 200-plus, now 25) will show photos that person likes or comments on. As you may have guessed, this can get ugly. Other apps to investigate: Kik, Instamessenger, and whatever has come out in the past week.

Hindsight truly is 20/20 and both my child and I learned a valuable lesson: be informed. And always paint with the TV on. And that dusting slippers can cause injuries. But mostly be digitally and socially informed.



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