How to keep up with your kids' digital, tech habits

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Technology has become part of our daily lives. This week, WTHR Sunrise reporter Kris Kirschner looks at who's using it, how they're using it and how it can keep you and your family safe.

It was a story that rocked not only the Wisconsin community where it happened, but an entire nation.  

Two middle school girls tried for allegedly attempting to kill a 6th-grade classmate to appease a fictional online character called "Slender Man."

John Michels, a Fishers father of two, watched the coverage with shock and disbelief.

He asked the question many parents wondered, "How do we keep up when it comes to children and their digital consumption?"

His answer?  

Create a website that helps parents teach and help one another.

"It's been eye opening to see the stuff that's out there," Michels said.

Launched in August, CarefulParents.com allows parents, or anyone, to post information, articles and tips on how to keep up with what is happening online and on social media.

Parents can read about current trends others are already dealing with and talk about them with their children before it becomes a problem.

Michels calls it a cross between Wikipedia and Pinterest.  

"We hope to create a social network for parents (where) they can share ideas and people can educate themselves on what's out there and what kids are doing," said Michels, who created the site with his business partner. 

The site includes a newly added parent forum and tabs with topics like  "Playing," "Hearing," "Saying," "Reading," and "watching." 

For example, under "Saying," there's "The 28 Acronyms Every Parent Should Know."

Click here for 50 chat acronyms every parent should know.

"It seems to be the way kids communicate in front of the screen," Michels said.

Understanding the digital language children are using is a way to bridge the digital generation gap.

"Even if their kids are doing the right thing, just getting that dialogue with their parents, is important," Michels said.

The website is currently self-funded. Michels hopes to offer an app version of CarefulParents.com in the future.

Detective Kevin Getz investigates internet crimes against children for the Indiana State Police. Eyewitness News Sunrise Reporter Kris Kirschner talked to him about how young people communicate online and how parents can understand them.

"That's the world they live in. They understand Snapchat, Facebook and are in tune with that, whereas our generation is late in the game.

"Sit down with your kids and go 'What do you mean by this?' Look at the text messages, look on the phone. Do you due diligence as a parent and talk to other parents.

"We're of a generation where we communicate face-to-face.  If I express an emotion you see that on my face. These kids, they're communicating with devices, using words that don't convey how they really feel. How can you tell how they really feel? They use that emoticon, 'Hey I'm having a great day, 6 smiley faces, sun, flowers.

"This is also the Twitter generation. How many characters can you have on twitter?  140. So, back to use of emoticons, symbols and limits on characters.

"I would just convey to parents look at sites. I think the biggest thing I 'd like parents to take away from this, be engaged, talk to kids, don't be afraid of technology."

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