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Parents and social media: Time to clean up your act?

Monday - 6/16/2014, 7:01am  ET

Parent.jpg
Many parents are focused on monitoring their children's online activity, but what they don't realize is that their kids are monitoring them. (AP Photo)

Who's monitoring who online?

WTOP's Randi Martin reports

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WASHINGTON -- Parents are monitoring their children's social media involvement by limiting screen time and restricting access to certain sites. But many parents don't realize that their kids are monitoring them as well.

"As the kids get older and get access online, [just] as you're watching them, we discovered they are watching us," says Ralph Blackman, president and CEO of The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, an organization that pushes parents to start conversations with their children at a young age on topics ranging from drugs to bullying and media use.

The discovery came after two years of research, surveys and focus groups involving family and mommy bloggers. According to Blackman, parents use social media expressions and postings as a platform for their private commentary on the world.

"And a lot of them did not model good behavior in their comments," he says.

To encourage parents to be more mindful of their posts, the foundation launched its Talk Early initiative.

Kids who have access to computers, and, at times, a parent's smartphone, can stumble upon these posts.

"The online commentary that might get a little snarky, that's certainly meant to be provocative and that's meant to be funny, may not be seen that way by a child," Blackman says.

It's a reminder that kids are insightful and smart -- and much of the time, they are a lot more comfortable with technology. And maybe, sometimes it's parents who need to clean up their act online.

Who's watching who in your house? Let us know in the comments section of this story, on Twitter or on the WTOP Facebook page. Until then, a local parent talks about her experiences with social media.


Moms, jokes and the Internet: Who's watching?
By Monica Sakala

By now, you've probably seen the Someecard image where a mom jokes about starting "Mom Scouts," instead of Girl Scouts, to sell hard alcohol and Xanax.

Maybe you laughed and moved on. Maybe you hit that "share" button and posted it on your wall. Someecards and memes are a fabric of our daily lives. For me, sometimes they're laugh out loud, almost ugly-laugh, funny. When that happens, my reaction is immediate and swift: Obviously I need to share this one on my Facebook wall. Occasionally I'll tweet it.

Sometimes they're moderately amusing, I chuckle and because sharing is almost intuitive, I still share them.

All the while, what I've yet to consider is: Who else is paying attention to what I'm sharing? And did I actually think it was that funny or am I just quickly reacting?

Sure, I'm thinking about my friends and other moms who can totally relate when these Someecards or other memes cross my wall. Generally, there's a line of absolute truth in most of these online jokes, justifying their viral nature.

It has been a tough day; I could go for a cold beer or a glass of wine.

I did consider selling my insane toddler for a moment. And I do enjoy wearing yoga pants all day long instead of dressing better.

There is a joke for any fleeting second of your day, especially with kids in tow. And there is a sense of community and reassurance in knowing that you're not alone in feeling these ways.

In a time-pressed culture, we find comfort and security in knowing we can pass a joke along, blow off some steam with a laugh and know we're not alone in the challenges and struggles that come with parenting -- especially parenting young kids.

Then, I came across a Talk Early video where kids share what they think their parents do online. I watched it. And felt a little bit guilty. Do I actually want to sell my kids? Are they the reason mommy drinks?

Of course not. I don't even drink that much -- so why am I sharing jokes about it?

My 8-year-old now reads. As it turns out, she reads my Facebook wall and Instagram feed, seemingly with pleasure. She's not even subtle about it. But does she get the joke when she reads it?

At last check, irony and sarcasm doesn't come with 8-year-olds, her world is still pretty black and white.

And do I have time to discuss each online joke she's seeing on my wall and reassure her that mommy really doesn't drink because of her?

Of course not.

For a few years now, parenting bloggers (myself included) have been abuzz with the importance of teaching our kids to protect their security, not freely roam the Internet and treat their friends respectfully online. By now, we get that part.

But what about us parents? We're monitoring our kids (or at least know we should be), but where is anyone talking about the reality that they are monitoring us back?

Like it or not, our kids are savvy and they are monitoring us back. Our social channels aren't our social channels, they are an extension of who we are in real life and our kids are paying attention.

Editor's Note: Follow Monica on her blog Wired Momma. With an 8-year-old and a 5- year-old at home, Monica enjoys entertaining parents with the gritty reality of raising young kids, while dangling her toes in the murky and emotionally complicated waters of the tween years. She rarely turns down a chance to talk about work-life "balance" issues. Monica also contributes to Huffington Post and Washingtonian magazine. Her blogging efforts include working as a blog champion for the U.N. Foundation's Shot@Life campaign, advocating on the importance of childhood vaccines in developing countries. Find her on Twitter @wired_momma, Facebook or Instagram at wiredmomma.

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