Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Remote Control

Here's a new, though not totally surprising conundrum for me. Parents we know in our extended family, with a pre-teen (let's call her Annie), are hard-working, committed family providers. But Annie's left to her own devices much of the day (both parents work, and Annie's a latchkey kid), operating a shared computer at will without supervision. Full-on Internet access, available to a 12-year old. A recipe for all kinds of problems, of course. But how do we intervene, help or otherwise promote Internet Safety into this circumstance without overstepping the bounds of our relationship, or typical civil boundaries?

This will be a tricky balancing act, between our offers to help (which come with underlying agendas), direct and indirect communication with Annie (and some subliminal education for her), and outright intrusion on our part into the activities and privacy of another family (perhaps only partially invited). You might say we're taking the "community protector" role, which obliges us to act in the face of danger and ignorance, on the behalf on an innocent - but not going so far as to cross boundaries of family, civil or legal protection and guidance already surrounding the child. Above all, we must maintain the trust and privacy of the family and child, otherwise, the relationship dies and there's no chance of helping as we could.

So, where to start? I've written a newsletter where the metaphor is driving a car (http://www.whizkidsllc.com/downloadable_files/Newsletters/Feb%202006%20Newsletter%20Print%20v2.doc); for both the parents and child, there's significant awareness and education first, training and trial under protected circumstances second, and monitored use third. What the family gets is another driver, the community gets a responsible participant, and the child gets an amazing experience in personal freedom, within limits.

So how do you teach someone else's kid to drive, in their car? We'll explore this in upcoming posts, as this activity develops. Let me know what you think. Believe me, I'd like to immediately access their computer remotely, install monitoring and filtering software, and participate as the "third-parent". Perhaps even volunteer to buy and manage their ISP services for them, so long as they use the parental control options. But that takes an enormous amount of trust and acceptance of the dangers - and we're not there yet. But we are at a place where we can start the drumbeat.

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