Monica Vila, the Online Mom | Growing Up Digital

In 2008, when I started talking at PTA meetings about internet safety, the iPhone was still a few months short of its first birthday, nobody knew what an app was, and a tweet was still a cute little noise you heard from a bird. When I asked how many moms had a Facebook account, it would be unusual to see more than two or three raised hands.

Just four years later, most PTA moms would rather lose their cars than their smartphones, and no day is complete without checking in on that all-important News Feed or Pinterest!

But despite our new-found digital sophistication, technology always stays one step ahead. Remember how we carefully activated parental controls, downloaded kid-friendly Web browsers, and kept screens out of the bedroom only to discover that the Web had gone mobile? Now kids are carrying mini computers around in their pockets, complete with HD web cams, high-speed Internet access, and a treasure trove of mobile games.

Source: istockphoto

As technology changes, our role as parents must change as well. We can no longer build fences around the Internet the way we used to. Instead, we need to understand the powerful devices that we are putting in the hands of our young children and properly instruct them on how they should respond.

But there is another important social development and one that motivates me every single day. To truly harness the power of digital tools AND keep kids safe, we cannot view technology adoption in the home as a choice. While I co-founded The Online Mom to provide a resource for education and advice, I quickly realized the effort required me to think of this as a social movement.

And what happens when your passion becomes a movement? You live and breathe it every day and every moment. And hopefully you learn something along the way.

So now I spend my days leveraging decades of communications training (and a few language skills) to persuade parents that we can no longer abide by the “my house, my rules” mantra. We live in communities and for as long as our kids share classrooms, playgrounds, soccer fields and social networks, we cannot expect to keep one child safe and savvy without educating all of the people in those circles. It just doesn’t work. And I know this first hand.

And while I left the small village in Mexico a long time ago to move to this country, I find that in some way, I am drawing on my upbringing to persuade, cajole or otherwise convince parents to share what they know – to be open about the possibilities, to rely on technology safeguards but mostly to widen their net – to take care of all kids in their extended worlds, to step in when they see negative behavior and empower other parents to do the same with their kids.

This is hard in this country. It is not the way it’s done. We tend to “respect” other people’s rules – so it goes against the wisdom that we’ve lived by for hundreds of years. But not so in other places. My sisters and cousins will just as quickly correct my child if she’s forgotten to pick up her plate after breakfast or put on sunscreen before going to the pool. And there is no chance my daughter would ignore or challenge direction from them – to her, their instruction is as good as coming from her parents.

So why this and why now? Because we have no choice.

Technology has connected us in more ways than we understand and it is essential that we work together to learn and to teach our kids the new rules of the road.

The notion that our kids’ lives online mirror their lives offline may come as a shock to some parents, who see the Internet in general and Facebook in particular as a breeding ground for meanness and inappropriate behavior. Instead, we mostly see a rather familiar portrait of kids trying to get along in a world of uncertain expectations, shifting friendships, and over-active hormones.

The best thing we can do as parents is set a good example. If you constantly reach for your iPhone during mealtimes or when reading a bedtime story, then kids learn that it’s OK to always be connected and even the important child-parent relationship takes a back seat to the next incoming text or e-mail. If kids learn technology-dependence at a young age, we can hardly blame them it they find it easier to text rather than talk, to play a video game rather than read a book, to spend time with Facebook rather than the family.

Whether today’s gadgets and tech services have a positive or negative impact on our family lives is entirely up to us. We can use technology to help enrich our lives and enhance our relationships, or we can use it as an obstacle. It’s not the technology that dictates how we respond, it’s us.

And we need to work together – we cannot accomplish much alone.

What are you passionate about?

Does this passion fuel your dream?

Monica Vila is “Chief Technology Mom” and co-founder of The Online Mom, the market leader in providing online and off-line tools to make parents of kids K-12 smarter and more comfortable with the technology that touches their family. Monica Vila is a guest writer for Mashable, The Huffington Post and has regular appearances on CNN Latino and Univision.

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