The Times West Virginian

August 18, 2013

Can kids be helped to be smart on smartphones?

Times West Virginian

— Yes, I edit my son’s text messages.

Earlier this year, Hal got a phone. I wasn’t sure how he would handle the responsibility of a phone, but you have to let kids earn trust sometimes. So he was given what he calls a “dinosaur.” Yes, he can make phone calls and text friends, send and receive pictures and videos. But he can’t log onto social media sites or download apps like Fruit Ninja or Shazam.

We’ve explained to him that the “dinosaur” was a whole heck of a lot more than what we had at the age of 11 (now 12) and that if he learned to use it responsibly and proved to us that he could take care of a phone, we’d consider an “upgrade” so that he could tweet, play Temple Run and take pictures of his dinner to post on Instagram.

His texts, however, are atrocious. There’s a new language, I guess, when it comes to digital communication. You don’t need to have proper grammar, you abbreviate words without any consistency, punctuation isn’t important and there’s no regard for spelling.

Of course, I insist on it. Why? Because I’m “just an old English major,” as he says. Well, maybe a little, but I think in order to effectively communicate, you need to have your message heard and understood. I waste an awful lot of time trying to decipher messages from adults. I’d like to make sure this kid starts off on the right foot.

For example, I got this message the other day:

Well be there in a min. Hell pick me up after practice

I knew what he meant. But I texted back that lack of punctuation in this case turned two words into other words and could be misinterpreted.


Let’s just say we don’t have a smartphone on our shopping list yet. As I always tell him, you have to be smart with a smartphone.

That’s the hope of a new initiative by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in West Virginia — to teach athletes about being smart with their phones. U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld has started a program called “Project Future Two A Days” in 11 county high schools with athletes inspired by the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case.

Ihlenfeld said the case “was eye opening — one night with high school students involved with alcohol, (smartphones) and social media, how that can change the lives of those involved forever.”

The project will involve 15 minutes focusing on drugs and alcohol and 15 minutes on social media each day with athletes in 11 schools.

Is it enough to have a coach or an educator telling horror stories about what happens if you post that picture or tweet about drug or alcohol use? Can we make kids (who know it, by the way, just ask them) understand that what they post online stays forever? It can affect their future and their reputation. It can ruin them, too.

Speaking of the digital world, we took that question to our readers online, who log on each week to and vote in our weekly poll question. Last week, we asked “A program launched by the U.S Attorney’s office would expose athletes in 11 counties to education about drug and alcohol use and responsible use of social media. What are your thoughts?”

And there is what you had to say:

• Kids need to take their images and reputation on social media seriously. This may help.— 13.11 percent.

• U have got 2 B kidding. This will fall on deaf ears.— 22.95 percent.

• Eleven? How about all 55 counties! — 63.95 percent.

We’re on board with expanding the project throughout the state and hope that it has success. As for my football player, I hope someone will at least talk to him about the importance of spelling one day.

This week, let’s talk about an issue that stirring up a little controversy on the local level. Marion County wants to develop the riverfront of the Mon River on Fairmont’s East Side but lacks a key piece of property the City of Fairmont owns at Palatine Park. The county wants a trade and the city wants a partnership. Where do you stand?

Log on. Vote. Email me or respond directly online.

Misty Poe

Managing Editor