Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why I Let My Kids Have an Internet Presence

 | Crossposted at dirt under my fingernails

Eva and Ian using the computer Eva bought with income from her book sales. Those sales have in part been made possible by her website.
Education and technology – it seems everywhere I look folks are talking about it. Should we do more, less? What about virtual schools? Interactive white boards? Cell phones? Facebook and Twitter? Should we let kids be out there on the ‘net? Should we post their pictures? Won’t they be kidnapped??
These are legitimate conversations, and each person has to make these kinds of decisions based on their own comfort levels and according to the needs of the individual child. I know people who are aghast that my kids each have a website with their names attached. I know many others who don’t even blink about it.

The way I see it, there is risk in everything we do. We put our kids on school buses every daywithout seat belts. We let them play contact sports. We drive our cars on roads with thousands of other imperfect drivers (the legal license age here is just 14!!). We fly in planes. Heck, we get up in the morning. I figure you can get injured or killed just as easy staying safe at home as you can if you travel across the world. But personally, I would take the second, far more interesting option.

So yes, I let my kids have a presence on the internet – first and last name and everything. And though I’m sure there are risks involved, the benefits for us far outweigh them. Here are some of those benefits:
I’m going to be talking mainly about Eva’s online presence, because it is more fully developed than Ian’s is currently.  Ian is still developing product for his site; once he has sheet music that bands can use, he’ll be able to connect with people in much the same way that Eva has. We are also still developing his website’s overall message and determining how it will best benefit other kids and musicians.

It Provides Real-Life Motivation for Quality Work
I talk a lot about doing away with grades for my kids’ work and instead providing the same types of motivational opportunities that drive adults. Kids aren’t so different from adults in that respect. Getting an “A” might feel good, but having your story published in a magazine feels better. Eva knows that her books aren’t just going to be filed in a cabinet, but read by dozens and dozens of people, many of whom she’ll never meet. Talk about motivation to produce quality work.

The kids’ online presence serves as an important element for this type of motivation. They each want to enhance the quality of their websites, and in order to do so, they have to continue to produce quality work. They also love it when I share their accomplishments on facebook. Though I emphasize that it’s not about the hits, likes, and comments, but instead about the connections those things represent, there is something exciting about seeing that positive feedback. It’s validating.

It Enhances Sense of Identity and Purpose
Over the past two years, Eva has come to see herself as an author. This year, she’s also come to see herself as a public speaker. Her website has not only enhances that sense of identity, but has helped create it, as it has made the sharing of her video lessons on writing possible. Making the videos allowed her to practice public speaking with the comforting lack of a physical audience. Her global positive feedback has boosted her confidence. And when she spends time tweaking and evaluating and adding to her website, she is learning to polish her professional image.

It Connects Us with People from Around the World and Creates New Opportunities
Through social media, our family has been able to connect with some pretty amazing folks – people we would have never had the opportunity to meet otherwise. Many of these people are our creative heroes, including Neil Gaiman, Sir Ken Robinson, Adora Svitak, and for Jamie, Peter Straub. These people live all over the world, and we live in middle of North Dakota. But with twitter and facebook, we have been able to talk with them as if they were next door. Amazing.

We’ve also “met” dozens of writers both young and old, teachers, principals, musicians, home educators, parents, kids. Eva has talked with folks from all over the world, sharing inspiration to write and tell stories.

And the opportunities! As a direct result of Eva’s video lessons on writing, she has been invited to speak in elementary school classrooms, both in person and via Skype. The possibilities are terribly exciting. One year ago, I would have thought the idea of public speaking for Eva was out of our grasp, at least for several more years (she can be very shy). But now… I stand in amazement at her poise and courage.

It Helps Us Be the Change We Wish to See in the World
What I want most for my kids is two things: 1) I want them to be happy and fulfilled by their life choices and 2) I want their life choices to benefit not only themselves but others as well. We’ve got just this one world, and it will be what we make it. I want my children’s world to be full of compassion, intelligence, generosity, and creativity; we have to be those things if we want that reality. We are living in a unique time, and can connect with people across the world in seconds. My kids have gifts to share – to inspire and create, to collaborate and enrich. What better way to improve both the quality of their lives and that of others than by encouraging this exchange of ideas and support?

And There’s More to Come!
With all my talk of internet presence, I recognize that we only dip the surface. We primarily use blog-based websites, facebook and twitter to achieve our digital goals. Starting today, husband Jamie is forging a new online frontier. To promote his novel Barking Mad (Typecast Publishing, 2011), he is embarking on a blog tour. Every day for three weeks, a different literary review blogger will post a unique interview with Jamie. Some of these interviews actually feature the dapper Reginald Spiffington, the main character of the book. What an exciting prospect! He hopes to connect with more readers and writers this way, and of course he hopes to boost his sales.

It really is a hilarious book, by the way – a comedy murder mystery with a werewolf! Set in 1931 England, the book reflects some of the literary joy of Agatha Christie and the Jeeves and Wooster stories. You should come along on the blog tour and learn about this exciting new venue together with us. His publisher is also giving away prizes both during and at the end of the tour. For more information, visit Jamie’s calendar page.

One Final Note on Security
I shouldn’t close without letting you know the ways I do protect my kiddos. They each have email addresses, but I receive copies of every incoming email. I proofread most of what goes back out as well. Youtube comments have to be approved by me, and I don’t allow youtube likes or dislikes. All comments on their websites also come to me for approval. As neither kid is 13 yet, neither of them have facebook accounts. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s not a perfect world. I say we forge ahead and embrace the positives in a smart, informed manner!

What about you? How do you feel about giving your children a presence on the internet? And how do you think the internet should be used in the classroom?


  1. All of your points are great reasons for students to be present on the web but I've found the one about real-life motivation for quality work to be most compelling. When I work with classes on blogging projects, the kids are usually excited and engaged (I suspect because it's totally different from "normal").

    However, we see a noticeable improvement in their research and writing after they receive their first comments from people outside of the class, especially people they don't directly know. More often than not the commenters are parents, other relatives, or class "friends" but it doesn't matter. Writing for a larger audience provides great motivation to "step up your game" (as explained to me by one eighth grader).

    1. Hi Tim! Yes, the real-life motivation is a wonderful thing. It compels the kids to produce quality materials more than anything I could offer as a parent or teacher.

      How wonderful that you do this with your students! I love your insight and the success you've had. "Stepping up your game." Well said!

  2. This is an interesting and well-considered perspective; thank you for sharing the true benefits rather than just countering the negatives.

    I think your choice is reflective of your children's real motivations. Your children aren't just 'hanging out' and consuming media, but rather, they are producing content and being open to feedback and community involvement. I imagine people's resistance to letting their children have online presence is more a reflection of their child's real world behaviour—and what they believe is possible—than a fear for their child's safety.

    I would be interested to hear how your children react to negative feedback or comments (both constructive and destructive), and how you are able to demonstrate/teach etiquette in the face of conflict.

    1. Thanks Stephen! I guess I'm a half glass full kind of person. :)

      And you're very insightful. I'm pretty vigilant about media consumption and am more strict than most parents about that kind of thing. I'm not saying I do it better or worse than others; I just have pretty firm boundaries. I struggle with finding balance in my own computer use; there are so many wonderful articles to read and things to learn! But there is also life to be lived right here in the present. Media is a wonderful tool, and our family is together exploring how to make it an integral and enriching part of our lives without letting it take over. It's definitely a process.

      For now, given their age, I am pretty fierce about protecting the kids from negative feedback or comments. I don't allow comments on youtube or on their websites without prior approval by me, and I don't allow people to like or dislike youtube videos. I am a positive person by nature, and I want my kids to feel that their contributions are received positively as well. As in all things, this will morph as they get older. But for now, frankly, people are too quick to say hurtful or insensitive things online due to the convenience of anonymity, and I feel it's simpler to keep a tight reign on destructive comments.

      That's not to say that I shield my kids from constructive criticism; quite the opposite. I encourage this with plenty of discussion and help the kids absorb and use the feedback in the manner in which it is intended.

  3. I teach 2nd grade and would love to show my students Eva's work and video, but I can't find them with a google search.

    1. kherbert: You can find Eva's videos at Click on "writing lectures." She (and I) would be honored to have you show them to your students!