We have all been bombarded with the “Social Media” hype and many parents are scratching their heads thinking “Should I be concerned?”  Well the answer is a resounding “Yes.”  With the explosion of the popularity of social networking sites and the plethora of smartphones, parents need to roll up their sleeves and stay on top of emerging technology trends.

“Augmented Reality” is a term you may have heard but you probably are not sure what it is and how it could impact the adolescent subculture.  Augmented Reality is taking digital images or videos and overlaying them in a real-time environment to enhance a users experience. The best way people would relate to Augmented Reality, better known as AR, is by thinking of a fighter pilot.  We have all seen the view or Heads Up Display (HUD) of a pilots view that shows a digital overlay that shows an artificial horizon, the digital altitude, digital speed, and a host of pilot dashboard information seen looking out the cockpit window.  Another example would be the artificial first down marker that helps football TV viewers know how far the offensive team needs to go to get a first down.  We know that the yellow line is not really on the field, but once the digital overlay is placed into the live environment, it assists millions of viewers in a real time environment to enhance our viewing experience.

These primitive examples don’t indicate why a parent might be concerned about Augmented Reality.  Topps baseball cards and Hallmark greeting cards are starting to use digital markings know as AR markers to do some amazing technology developments. Once a person holds up an AR marker or greeting card to a web camera, all they need to do is view their monitor and see a digital image appear over their real time environment.  Once baseball players and birthday greetings jump out into our real time environment, it is only a matter of time until we see naked women jump out of an AR marker.

The pornography industry is doing back flips with excitement because Augmented Reality pornography is coming to a smartphone near you.  Soon kids will be able to hold digital patterns know as AR markers up to a webcam and see pornography images or videos before their eyes.

We then add the concept of geotagging and the concerns grow deeper when we see kids utilizing this growing trend.  Kids are starting to post blog entries or Twitter postings that include their geolocation.  Geolocation is the exact location (GPS coordinates seen on a map) that shows where the person (in this case  a child) physically posted their image, blog posting, tweet or video.  One social networking site such as Wikitude can show Youtube postings, Twitter tweets or photo locations of where kids posted through mobile apps.  When you load the Wikitude app on your smartphone, you can hold up the viewer and see augmented reality floating digital images that show digital markings of where adults and kids geolocated postings in your immediate proximity.  I can easily see child postings in my neighborhood on my smartphone app.  Kids love to post Youtube videos and some are allowing their Youtube posts to be geotagged.  This raises serious privacy concerns and allows a predator or stalker dangerous information to track the whereabouts of a child.  Augmented Reality and geotagging can be a very cool emerging technology, but when kids harness a power that surrenders their privacy or unsuspecting digital beacon it translates fun into potential danger.

We do not want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, but children need to be aware that unsuspecting information they post can be used against them.  Parents need to have open dialogue with their kids to discuss the positive and negative opportunities that can be created with emerging technologies.  Parents need to strive to overcome any fears of the technology gap between themselves and their kids and share positive technology experiences and potential pitfalls.  If families focus on increased learning opportunities with their children, they can create honest and positive family discussions to ensure safe technology usage.