What’s Your Child Doing Online?
I get a lot of questions about online and cell phone activity by kids. Should we respect their privacy, or be checking their texts? How about what goes on with video game chats? Is it our business to know what they say and receive on social media? And how do we handle talking with kids about this sensitive issue?
Consider these points:
1. Modern parenting requires knowing what your kids are doing on social media and saying in texts (the two most common ways they communicate with peers.) We now have a “private” life to monitor about which our parents did not have to be so concerned.
2. When children’s brains are not fully developed, their impulses to say and do things that they would not normally do if a parent was present, put them at greater risk for bullying – either being the bully or receiving bullying.
3. Perpetrators are seeing their opportunities, and we need to closely check to be sure the “kids” our children are contacting online are actually kids, not sexual predators.
4. Social media is here to stay, so it’s best to confront these issues head-on, to protect our kids.
5. Open, honest discussion and consistent monitoring are your best strategies for keeping kids safe.
How to talk about it?
First, become familiar with the technology. Set aside a specific time to go over each outlet with your child. This will include Facebook, but less and less with the advent of these more youth-driven applications:
Micro-blogging apps and sites
Chatting, Meeting, Dating apps and sites
When I look at the list above, it seems overwhelming, as I am sure it is to many of you. Keep in mind that if you are paying for a phone, you have the right to know how it’s being used.
And what’s a Self Destructing/Secret App? The message only appears for a few seconds, and is gone forever. This makes it much harder to monitor, and these apps should not be allowed. Children are regularly posting inappropriate photos of themselves and their friends. I know, it’s tough being a parent in these times.
Call a family meeting, and focus on the teens. If you have younger children, it’s good for them to hear your stance on social media and texting.
Make these points very clear:
1. Yes, kids love connecting with their phones. You understand that it’s a wonderful way to stay in touch.
2. We need limits on the phone and computer use, because so much can go wrong when kids are using them, even when they don’t mean to get involved with something they shouldn’t.
3. As long as parents are paying for phones and computer service, they have access to all account passwords, and run frequent checks.
4. Phones sleep in the kitchen at night, so kids get their sleep. Research now shows that the blue light from electronics interferes with sleep, so this is non-negotiable, for health reasons. (Also, it eliminates “too much freedom” to text at night.)
5. Respectful use of language when using electronic devices is not optional. The best way to make sure it is respectful is to give positive feedback when you see respect. Also, include your child in a discussion on what feels respectful to him or her, and how important it is to always show consideration to others. Kindness does not only apply when adults are present and included. It’s the way our family communicates at all times.
Challenging as this topic can be, it’s also a fabulous opportunity to share values with your children. It can be so enriching to your relationship to face this topic with respect and appropriate limits. That’s what keeps a child feeling safe.
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