Tweet, hashtag, avatar, IM, bluetooth, app, cloud, emoticon, 4G, friending, cut & paste.

If you are over the age of 40 and don't understand all these terms, don't feel too bad about yourself. You didn't grow up in the age of technology.

And, be careful. These terms may not mean what you think they mean. For example, you don't need a pair of scissors and a bottle of glue to cut and paste these days.

However, if you are a parent, teacher or any person who cares about kids, then maybe you do need to be a little worried. While it can be overwhelming to understand the best way to provide technology opportunities for children in a world that is only going to become more technology-dependent, we must. We must find a way to safely and properly prepare them for a future that even they can’t imagine.

New research is being conducted every day to help us better understand the impact technology has on today's youth. While it may still take years to fully understand these effects, one thing is already clear — technology is changing everything.

A recent study conducted by the University of Maryland asked 200 students to give up all their Internet and social media contact for one full day. Results found that after only 24 hours many students began experiencing symptoms of clinical withdrawal. They physiologically craved this type of information, and many showed signs of anxiety, along with an inability to function well without their social links to this virtual world. Some students equated this loss of a technology “connection” to going without friends and family.

Experts in thinking and learning are also saying that overwhelming use of the Internet for research and study encourages users to dart between pages of information instead of concentrating on and understanding one source fully, such as a book, the way older adults learned.

This new type of thinking may leave some children incapable of the discipline needed to read and write at length because their way of learning has been altered. Technology may literally be "re-wiring" our children to think and function differently than any previous generation. Only time will tell.

Cyber-bullying, identify theft and online sexual predators do pose real threats, but kids can be and should be taught to use technology wisely and responsibly. Parents and other adults must learn to embrace it, understand the social implications of its use and provide a safe way for children to explore and learn in this limitless world of information.

So, what can we do to help raise good “digital” citizens?

First and foremost, don't be afraid of technology. When it comes to using it, most kids are smarter than us. So, have your kids show you how to do something if you don't know. Your kids will help you become a better user of technology, and that opens the door for you to teach them to be responsible users.

Try to see the world through the “digital” eyes our kids are using. Don’t lose control of the flow of information. Monitor their Internet and social media use in the same way you monitor their other activities.

Just as in the real world, kids don’t always understand the implications of their actions in the virtual one. Help them self-reflect about what they are seeing and saying on social media, and teach them how to behave responsibly there. Instill in them the same values you use every day, just relate those values to this world that kids easily understand.

In a recent Washington Post blog, Lynette Owens, director of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families division, said, "Technology can be intimidating to those of us who were introduced to it later in life. The job of teaching kids how to use it appropriately can feel daunting when often times they seem better at it than we do. But, we cannot sidestep our obligation to make technology a tool our kids use safely and responsibly. […] It just takes a willingness to embrace what is already here, and a little courage to take the first step.”

I wholeheartedly agree.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion.


Community Coordinator

Annette is Community Coordinator for The Times. She has been with the paper for two decades. A resident of Hobart, she graduated from Purdue University with degrees in English and German.