Young people these days can stay in almost constant communication with each other. Let me use an example from a dinner I attended recently. A family I’m friends with had just gotten together for dinner after months of separation. The mood was festive, the food delicious, the talk witty and fast flowing. The fourteen-year-old son, however, was off in his own world. He hardly ate, talked, or participated at all with what was going on right in front of him. Rather, he sat with his head bowed, fixedly typing and receiving text messages into his cell phone. He was in his own world; the world of his friends; the angsty, dramatic, dark, gossipy, constantly changing world of youth. His parents tried to get him to engage with the other folks at the table, but to no avail. He was closed off from the rest of us. He didn’t need us, because a cunning gadget in his hand allowed him to be in constant communication with the people that mattered most to him.
Now, I’m not trying to speak any “end of the world” talk here. I personally believe that there are many advantages to the explosion in abilities for human beings to communicate with one another at more or less constant intervals. However, with kids, and especially young kids, there can be too much of a good thing. We live in a dangerous world, and recent television programs have highlighted and dramatized the rise of sexual predators who use the Internet and other devices to access innocent young people. Therefore, it behooves parents to learn a little bit of the lingo that it common in such forms of communication. IM (or Instant Messaging) acronyms serve as a kind of shorthand for kids who spend a lot of time text messaging and frequenting chat rooms. They’ve developed their own way of communicating. Now, it really isn’t all that complex, and it doesn’t take much effort on the part of a parent to memorize the key acronyms so that they can have a little insight into the sort of conversations their children are having. Let’s look at a few of the more important ones, to provide you with a sort of launching pad to further researches of your own.
a/s/l or asl — this acronym stands for age/sex/location. It’s a means of getting personal information from a chatter you aren’t acquainted with. That parents would want to be familiar with this particular acronym seems obvious. If a person is asking your son or daughter for their age, sex, and location, they’re asking for pretty intimate details, and, if it turns out that this particular person’s intentions are predatory, dangerous details. You might want to talk to your son or daughter about the foolishness of relating such sensitive information to a total stranger, especially when there’s a good chance that he’s up to no good.
DIKU — this acronym stands for Do I Know You? Of course, this particular acronym could be harmless, but it’s always proper for a parent to know potential strangers seeking to get to know their children online. Remember, though, that your child could be speaking to some harmless schoolmate who he or she wants to get to know better. It isn’t always a case of some monster trying to break into your castle.
D/L, DL, d/l — this acronym stands for Downloading, or Downloading it. With the uprising of pornographic content on the net, and especially pornographic content of a self-exposing kind, a parent will want to know what exactly a child is downloading. Chat rooms are filled with mysterious strangers, each one of whom could be peddling dangerous, psychologically damaging pictures for children to see. Make sure that your child is only downloading appropriate stuff for his or her age. It is, of course, possible to set your computer up so that it rejects certain unacceptable materials, but kids have a way of getting around those things.
P911 — this acronym stands for My parents are in the room. Notice the 911, which means something like “let’s talk about a less dangerous subject” or “try not to use obscene language for the next few minutes.” Usually, if you see a P911 go up you can be pretty sure that something’s rotten in the state of Denmark. It wouldn’t hurt to do a little follow up in this situation.
All that said, though, the main thing is to keep an open and honest relationship with your children, so that they aren’t afraid to come to you if they feel they’ve gotten in over their heads about something. And it doesn’t hurt to set some rules either. For example, you might want to keep the family computer out in the open, so that it’s harder for kids to hide what they’re doing. This may seem like a drag at first, but kids get used to it and you can rest easier knowing that they’re not hiding in their room doing heaven knows what.