Kids need you to parent them in cyberspace in exactly the same way you always have; by using your smart adult brain to see the risks and to balance freedom with parental oversight.Parents often ask, “How can I ask for their private information like usernames and passwords?In today’s digital world, parents are faced with safety concerns like never before. Cyberspace is one area of a child’s daily life where we just aren’t parenting effectively. I don’t want them to think I don’t trust them.”Ok, the question I really hear is “I am afraid that my child may make bad decisions online, but I don’t want them to not like me, so what should I do?”Your job is to be a parent, the one who teaches and guides, who corrects behavior until the child is old enough to stay out of trouble, to self-correct and self-monitor. If the need to be your child’s friend is your primary motivation, you will be unable to effectively parent during the preteen and teen years. Things to Consider;
- Social Media is a public space. You are not violating your child’s privacy by parenting them in cyberspace.
- If you want to be the smartest parent you can be, you will need information about what your child is doing in cyberspace.
- Knowing all usernames and passwords for each social media app, messaging app, email addresses etc. is an absolute must.
- Your teen’s brain is still developing which leaves them susceptible to impulsive and emotionally driven decision making.
- As your child demonstrates safe, appropriate behavior, more freedom is earned. The reigns need to be tightened when they demonstrate an inability to handle the freedom given.
- If you believe that open communication alone will result in you knowing about or preventing trouble, you are wrong.
- Kids will behave better online if they know you have the ability to see what they are doing.
How to have the conversation with your child depends on your particular situation but here are a few examples;
Your 10-year old’s first smartphone.
“Getting a smartphone, having the internet, social media apps etc is a responsibility and a privilege. I will be actively monitoring what you are doing online and more freedom will be given when you have demonstrated a consistent ability to make appropriate decisions. I will be honest with you and I will be consistent in giving consequences if you violate our expectations.” (The unspoken here is if your child doesn’t agree to the conditions, they are not ready to have a smartphone.)
Your 15-year-old daughter was caught sexting her boyfriend.
After a dialogue with your daughter about her body, respect, and privacy, you need to explain the risks. Pictures don’t just evaporate once posted online and colleges and future employers do search what potential applicants post online. A decision to post provocative photos or content can result in consequences down the line and may cause damage to her reputation that will be irreversible.
“Your decision to post an inappropriate picture proves that right now, you are unable to handle the freedom we have given you. Until you demonstrate better decision making and impulse control, we will be monitoring your online activity. It is still our responsibility as your parents to keep you safe and out of trouble. As you prove that you have learned a valuable lesson and have consistently used the internet responsibly, we can talk about what changes we are willing to make, but until then, this is how it has to be.”
Your 15-year-old son is doing really well but you are concerned because of the horror stories you have heard about teens and social media.
“As your parents, we recognize all of the positive decisions you are making in your life (list specifics so they really hear that you get it) but we have some concerns about social media and messaging apps that can get you into trouble. While we generally trust you to behave appropriately, there are some safety risks that we need to protect you from. We understand that because of your age, you may be susceptible to making some impulsive and emotionally driven mistakes. Until you are older, we need to be sure we can help you, find you, or get to you in the case of an emergency. We understand you may not like it and that you may not understand it. Sometimes, you are just going to have to trust that as your parents, sometimes, we might just know a little more than you do. This is one of those times.”
If you have a particular situation and need help in making a communication strategy with your child, it may be helpful to seek professional help from a Licensed Clinical Social Worker or a Licensed Mental Health Professional.