There is power in the Internet. Sometimes that power can be used for good, as when we make connections, discover important new information, or find a recipe that uses the only four ingredients you have left in your kitchen. Sometimes it can be used for evil, as when protesters plan to meet up to disrupt private funerals, or pedophiles pretend to be 15 years old to insinuate themselves into the lives of lonely children, or when sexting or cyber bullying lead vulnerable teens to commit suicide.
When I was a kid, I remember my mom teaching me how to use her sewing machine and later, how to drive her car. Part of her instruction included such admonishments as: “This is a powerful machine. Using it is a privilege, and you must use it responsibly. If you can’t do that, then your privileges will be taken away.”
The machine we call the Internet is becoming more powerful by the moment. I recently started a thread on Lisa Ling’s new website called the Secret Society of Women. It covered a topic near and dear to my heart — prematurity. Shortly after I posted, a women who had just given birth to a 25-week preemie, left a deeply emotional response. I suddenly realized that I had a profound responsibility to respond to this women with care and restraint. Nuance is lost in a comment thread, and words meant to be supportive can be misinterpreted. We don’t know when we leave a comment how it will be received.
As a blogger, I live for comments. The feedback and immediate gratification is intoxicating, maybe even a little addictive. As moms, we all have questions about how to protect our children in the big, bad world of cyberspace, where they can interact with complete strangers without our knowledge. But we should also feel charged with teaching them to use their own web powers responsibly — to act with discretion and kindness in the virtual world, just as we expect them to behave IRL.