Babies With Blogs, and Other Parenting Dilemmas of the 21st Century

BlogHer Original Post

This week, the New York Times ran a story called "Twittering From the Cradle", a piece that discusses social networking for babies and toddlers.  Yes, there is such a thing. 

The piece's author, Camille Sweeney, tells about several resources for parents and babies, including Totspot, Kidmondo, and Lil'Grams, calling them "Facebook for children."  These sites allow parents to set up what are essentially personal weblogs for their child, sharing milestones, photos and funny stories with only the people they invite (privacy seems to be a key factor in these sites.)

Sweeney explains that Totspot, in particular, allows parents to post as their child:

...Some early adopters have become ventriloquists for their children, even those too young to speak for themselves. With a quick glance at a cheerful profile, parents can also handpick their offspring’s playmates much like online daters choose companions.

This story is just another example of an issue that fascinates me.  As both a mother and blogger, my thoughts keep coming back, again and again, to the subject of kids (even really young ones) having an on-line presence.  I wrestle with the issue, as many other parents do.  How much is too much?  How do we protect their privacy?  Should they have a firmer grasp of living in the real world before tackling the cyber one?  What about (*gulp*) cyber-bullying?

I have, so far, only dipped my feet in the waters, allowing my older school-age kids to experiment with (private) blogs, and I've encouraged their use of sites such as ClubPenguin and Webkinz.  I've reasoned that such sites make good "workshops" for learning responsible cyber-skills, particularly in the area of not revealing too much about oneself and having your eyes open for red flags.

As overwhelming as the thought may be to parents, we're living--and raising children--in the digital age.  Did you know there's even a phrase for this phenomenon?  Kids born post-1980 are called "digital natives". Educational Technologist Schuchi Grover explains:

Seven years ago, Marc Prensky authored a seminal article titled Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants- in which he coined and used these now-famous phrases to describe (respectively) the students of today who are “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet; and those of us who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in our lives, become fascinated by and adopted many new technologies.

Grover references the same book discussed in Sweeney's New York Times piece:  Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives, by Harvard Professor John Palfrey.  It's a book that claims to address many of the questions parents have:

Born Digital explores a broad range of issues, from the highly philosophical to the purely practical: What does identity mean for young people who have dozens of online profiles and avatars? Should we worry about privacy issues – or is privacy even a relevant concern for Digital Natives? How does the concept of safety translate into an increasingly virtual world? Are online games addictive, and how do we need to worry about violent video games? What is the Internet's impact on creativity and learning? What lies ahead – socially, professionally, and psychologically – for this generation?

While we first-generation digital parents may naturally view this issue with raised eyebrows, there are benefits for our kids, too.   GeekyMom points out:

I would argue that students who have active online lives have greater potential to be conversing with people of a variety of ages. Someone who has a blog (outside of Live Journal) or who plays online games is likely to interact with some older and some younger people. In my own online experience, I know this variety of generations is both a challenge and a delight.

I suspect this is a conversation that will take some interesting twists and turns, especially as the "digital natives" grow up and begin to make decisions for their own children.  Will they think that their parents gave them too much freedom, or not enough?  Will they sign up their babies for their own blogs?  Until, then, we parents will be learning as we go.

Shannon Lowe is a BlogHer contributing editor (Mommy/Family). She also blogs at Rocks In My Dryer and The Parenting Post.