Under surveillance

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

For generations, moms have warned kids to wear clean underwear in case they get into an accident. I know it seems like a trifling concern during a medical emergency, but that's how moms are: They cover all the bases to keep their offspring safe.

Somewhere in the back of the maternal minds lurks a fear that, in a triage situation in which a quick decision must be made on who gets treatment first, nurses use clean underwear as the tiebreaker. (I don't mean to leave dads out of this discussion, but let's face it: Dads are historically less concerned about the state of underwear. Even their own.)

The reason I bring this up is I think moms need to update their anxieties. This is the digital age. Perhaps in the middle of the 20th century, the threat of a few emergency room personnel gossiping at the nurses station about the condition of your Fruit-of-the-Looms was the worst kind of humiliation a parent could imagine. Now? Much larger threats loom: Someone could photograph your underwear with a cellphone as you lie on a stretcher in the street. Then they could upload it to YouTube. Before you reached the hospital doors, a global audience could be snickering at your panties.

Of course, you'd be competing for attention with the many people on the Internet who don't bother to wear panties, so the damage to your reputation might not be as severe as it could have been. Still, it can't hurt to advise kids of the consequences of seemingly innocent lapses in this digital world.

I'm reminded of those poor people who got caught picking their noses when Google was taking photographs for its Street View feature. Parents used to tell kids not to pick their noses because it's disgusting and the neighbors will think less of them. But now they should update the consequences. Now they should say, "Honey, if you pick your nose, someone, somewhere is bound to post it on their MySpace page. A decade from now an Ivy League admissions officer will find it while checking your background and you can just forget going to Harvard, let alone landing a job with a prestigious firm after graduation."

In a way, this sounds almost like a return to the good old days of tight-knit communities, when youthful misbehavior was inevitably witnessed by someone who would tell the offender's parents. Except now the entire planet is your neighborhood and the police surveillance video of your child and his friends mooning a convention of nuns could end up on several cable news shows. Be careful how you present this to kids. Having grown up in an age of instant communication and celebrity mania, they might think the idea of achieving global recognition is worth the risk.

Moms used to ask a classic question meant to demonstrate the foolishness of blindly following the crowd: "If all the other kids jump off a bridge, are you going to do it, too?" I wouldn't ask that question anymore because the media-savvy child may answer: "No. But I'll sure as heck get some video of it."