What scares you about your child’s online world? Is it online predators, cyberbullying, or maybe naked images being sent to or from friends? How do you manage all of these worrisome issues in your home? Our kids, especially teens, crave privacy but still need parents to balance supervision with their independence.
Parenting is hard enough, and now we have to deal with all these high tech communication tools. Here’s a tip. When things seem overwhelming, break them down to their simplest form, like – what did parents do before the Internet or smart phones? Also, don’t think of Online and Offline as two separate worlds, but your child’s everyday life, their connection to friends and social world.
As parents, we engage with our kids and their friends in real life. It’s what you do if your child’s friend visits your home. You greet them; you ask about their lives, school, teams, and parents. You let your child and friend go off and hang out, but eventually you’ll check on them – ask if they need anything, or if the friend needs to call home to check in.
That’s involving yourself as a parent, stepping into their world, stepping out, and stepping back in as needed.
How about phone calls to your home phone? You’ll ask who’s calling. Many times you’ll also have a short conversation with the caller and watch your child roll their eyes while you chat with their friend. Both of these are examples of involved parenting. You aren’t participating as a friend to your child, but engaging with those who are part of your kid’s life.
Engaging with your child in the online world may sound impossible, and may not be easy, but it certainly isn’t impossible. Open the lines of communication!! Years ago when AIM (AOL Instant Messaging) was very popular, I sent my then 13-year-old daughter a message for the first time. It was a short “How was your day” message right after school. Her response – “Dad, you’re freaking me out.”
Why would such a simple message create such a terrified response? Because she didn’t think Dad belonged in her online world. We laugh about it now, but it took a little time to get past the idea that the online world isn’t a private or secret place only for kids and their friends, but a communication tool that we all use.
Try this. Next time your son or daughter is texting a friend, ask who they’re texting and say, “Let me say hi.” You may get the same “you’re freaking me out” response, but wouldn’t you say hi if they were visiting or calling your home? It isn’t any different, and an involved parent knows their child’s friends.
I grew up in a house with six kids and one phone, and all of us would have been horrified to find our parents listening in on the extension. What if you found your parents reading your diary or notes passed from friends in school? Yet, today, I’ve had parents proudly say, “Nothing is private in my house. I read all their texts after they’re in bed.”
Just because we can, doesn’t me we should. Spend that time talking with your child about your rules and expectations, not spying on them and trying to catch them doing sometime wrong.
Our kids use all sorts of devices, from smart phones to gaming systems, and we have more to be more engaged as parents. Online predators aren’t the only troubling issue for parents, but secrecy and lack of parental involvement may be the all the opening a predator needs to connect with a child.
Being involved is the greatest responsibility of parenting, and that means to knowing your child, their interests and friends, and having conversations about their lives and dreams. It can sometimes be difficult and scary in this age of technology, but I know you’ll find the right degree of involvement.
Lt. Joe Laramie, retired, is a former Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Commander, where he coordinated the National ICAC program’s technology safety message and was liaison to Internet safety organizations. He is a nationally known speaker on the topic of child exploitation and technology safety. Lt. Laramie is a subject matter expert featured in Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children® child sexual abuse prevention training.