Saturday, April 28, 2012

Of CSTs, dead frogs, and instant communication

So, a 13-year-old girl who I love more than life itself posed next to a dead frog she and her classmates had presumably just dissected in biology class. This wonderful child is smiling broadly, like she does in all the photos everyone takes of her (she's very popular) giving a thumbs up, right next to the eviscerated amphibian.

Maybe it's because I'm a vegetarian (have been for the last 20 years). Or maybe it's because I'm an adult, and adults don't know the fun they're missing. But something about that photo doesn't sit right with me.

I'm sure my wonderful 13-year-old didn't think any of this: she was having a great time in school with her friends (hey, I love it that she likes school, gets good grades, she's brilliant, what can I say). But I'm afraid that this seemingly innocent past time -- documenting every single moment of your life -- can get out of hand when left unchecked.

Yeah, maybe it's a leap, but think of U.S. soldiers posing with Afghan corpses. Is it a stretch to think that, when we don't teach our children what's OK and what's not, they'll be snapping completely inappropriate photos next? And uploading them on tumbler?

When do we intervene?

We're in completely uncharted territory here. When I was growing up, we only had one camera at home -- a very fancy one I was forbidden to touch. Not only that, but film was extremely expensive to buy and develop, so you could not waste it child's play.

These days, photos are like pollution, you can't escape them. But because we were not raised with them, we don't now how to deal with them. We don't know how to make sure our children have a good sense of what's appropriate and what's not when it comes to documenting their lives for public consumption.

Just this week, the California Department of Education discovered that at least 100 students from 34 school districts were taking pictures of the CSTs and posting them up on social media sites. A big testing nono. Not surprisingly, the CDE is an uproar. For the students, it's just an Instagram moment. For CDE, is a security breach. (My colleague John Fensterwald wrote a good story about it here).

The moral of the story? Follow your young ones on Faceme, Tweetme, Instagratificateme. Question their taste. If you're not sure, ask them, do you think this is appropriate? It's not just about scolding them, it's about having them develop a sense of what's right and what's wrong. We don't want to do the thinking for them. We just want them to learn to question that cool photo before it goes public to the world.

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