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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

A behavioral approach

By the time your kids get to their teens, technology is so integrated into their everyday lives that it becomes almost impossible to control what they will be exposed to. Their daily routines are awash with ringtones, IMs and texts, music downloads, video games, and constant visits to their MySpace or Facebook pages to check on the latest gossip. And that doesn't even count Internet time for homework or other educational purposes.

So what can a concerned parent do? How do we continue to protect our kids and not undo the benefits of all those hours of supervised tech time they had when they were younger? Well, maybe the answer lies in how we view technology itself. What if we de-mystified technology and classified it right alongside all the other activities that teenagers engage in where we recognize both the benefits and the potential dangers?

Playing sports; starting to drive; a night on the town with friends; sleepover camps. All these activities are part of the growing-up experience for regular teenagers. We encourage them and prepare them as best we can but we know in the back of our minds that there is some risk associated with each of these normal activities. If something bad happens on the sports field - a child gets injured - we recognize it straightaway and can deal with it.

But how about the other activities? How do we know when our child is exposed to drugs or underage drinking? Is urged to drive recklessly or is in a car when someone else does? For the most part, we won't know - unless our child chooses to tell us or a change in their behavior signals there's a problem. And that's the best monitoring system we have for our teenage kids - our intimate knowledge of their personality and their daily routines!

And so it is with technology, and particularly the Internet. We hope that the rules and disciplines we have taught our children in their formative years will help them make the right decisions (or at least less of the wrong ones!) as they obtain more freedom and gain more responsibility for their own actions.

Same problems, different sources

The specific problems associated with technology and the Internet are not really any different from the teenage problems that arise from non-tech sources. Sadly, technology can be just another medium of delivery of teenage angst and temptations, albeit a vastly more sophisticated one. School yard bullying evolves to cyberbullying; neighborhood sex offenders evolve to online predators; violent TV programs evolve to violent video games; illegal street drugs for sale evolve to illegal online drugs for sale. Same issues demanding the same solutions: trying to keep an open dialogue with your kids on matters great and small and watch for the behavioral changes that signal there might be a problem.

Remember, the teenage years are complicated and full of doubts and anxious moments. For most kids, technology and the Internet represent an incredible opportunity to expand their horizons, communicate, and share with their friends and peers in ways that were unheard of by previous generations. Well-adjusted kids with a good rule book to play by will only enhance their social skills and self-respect by taking advantage of all that technology has to offer.

Encourage, support, communicate...and carefully observe!

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