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Good parenting key to keep up with tech trends

Published 12:04am Friday, April 26, 2013

For as long as human beings have been creating new technologies, there have been teenagers waiting to take advantage and parents to fret and worry about it.

Technology and teenage pranks go hand in hand.

I remember the day my school got its first Xerox machine. I must have been in junior high school when the copier, which was the size of a small car, was wheeled into the teacher’s lounge.

It didn’t take long for the faculty and staff to put the machine under lock and key, thanks to a prank from a group of mischievous students.

What teenager hasn’t contemplated laying their head down on the copier to make a few copies of his face smashed against the glass? Funny stuff, right?

But when one of my classmates sneaked into the lounge, pulled down his pants and sat down to make several self-portraits one day, things became serious very quickly, especially since the copies ended up in a stack of English papers.

To this day, no one has admitted to the prank. If he had to do it all over again, I wonder if my classmate now regrets making such a lasting impression.

In the days of the Internet, images posted to friends’ Facebook and Twitter accounts last much longer than those Xerox copies that have long since disintegrated in a landfill.

On the Web, embarrassing moments can last for years and leave a trail that has the potential to do great damage. These days that photo of my friend’s rearview, if posted on the Internet, would have put him at risk with a prospective employer who is savvy enough to do a quick check of the electronic history of his applicants.

That may be one reason why Snapchat has become the newest sensation on the Web among teenagers.

The smartphone app allows users to share photos and videos that self-destruct in 10 seconds or less. Snapchat users do not have to worry about those embarrassing scenarios, those ugly grainy party photos or those videos that share a hilarious moment not necessarily meant for eternity or future employers.

In less time than it takes to read a Twitter message, the photo and video is gone forever, according to Snapchat.

The service is so popular that Snapchat processes more than 30 million messages a day.

I bet Anthony Weiner wishes he used Snapchat to send that suggestive photo to a woman who was following him on Twitter. If he had, he might still be a New York state representative.

That is exactly what worries many parents who wonder what their children are sending with Snapchat.

Assuming the worst, some parents in recent months have expressed concern that Snapchat and other services like it offer their teens an opportunity to send racy photos and other salacious shots, without a record.

Other suggest that teens are being teens, sending silly messages and photos of unguarded moments not unlike my junior high classmate and his pictures from the school copier.

As a parent of a 3-year-old, I have a few years before I have to worry about such things. Snapchat will probably be long gone, and some other smartphone app or technology will have taken its place on the parent worry list.

After all, there has always been something out there to worry parents, from rock and roll in the 1950s to chatrooms in the 1990s to Facebook today.

But the one thing that has remained through it all is good parenting. Parents who are aware of the dangers, who know how to teach and trust their kids to do the right thing and discipline when necessary are the only answer to the ever-changing technology landscape.

 

Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.