Happy New Year!
I am not big into resolutions, but I have one very important parenting resolution and I encourage every parent to make a similar one: be more engaged with our children's digital lives.
Last year, one of my kids made two mistakes online. One was a well-intentioned effort to express solidarity with a position on a social issue our family agreed with. In advocating for this position, however, my child accidentally used some terminology, the plain meaning of which was fine. Unfortunately, these words happened to have some highly-charged meaning. He didn't understand the context, nor did he realize how others might perceive this.
A second mistake came when the child responded to what he thought was a joke. Although what he did was not necessarily bad or offensive, the context was such that it could have been very embarrassing. It certainly went against our family's values.
Neither of these cases involved sneakiness or behavior that was objectively bad or offensive. Both, however, could have caused real problems for my child, and reminded me that so often, what a child meant to do really doesn't matter online.
Both of these incidents surprised me because I try to be attuned to my children's digital lives. I spend an increasing amount of time at school each year responding to problems that occur or are made worse by access to digital media. I try to learn from these and be pro-active in my parenting--and yet, I still found myself dodging some bullets. These incidents pointed out to me--again--just how seriously parents need to stay involved with their child's online lives.
With a new year upon us, I suggest that every parent ought to really consider creating a regular routine of checking in with their children about screen time, including social media, texting, gaming, etc.
The sad reality is that there are so many ways for kids to get in trouble online, and not always by doing something obvious, like sending inappropriate photos or using offensive terms (although, I would not let my guard down on these either).
Of course the good news is that many kids are fine. It's easy to hear about a few horror stories and panic. At the same time, the bad news is that it only takes one or two mistakes to potentially cause some life-changing difficulty.
However, one could say the same about driving under the influence, or texting and driving: it's only a few relatively few, perhaps. That said, none of us want our children to be among that number.
The more I work with kids, the more I am convinced that most adults, even loving, intelligent, conscientious, engaged parents do not realize the full extent of their child's online life. I am equally convinced most parents overestimate their child's ability to make mature, good decisions about that life.
This is not a criticism of either parents or kids. Kids have always lived large parts of their lives independently and out of view of adults.
And, saying kids make immature decisions online is not meant as criticism. Kids are, by definition, immature. They have very little life experience. Their brains are still developing, so they very literally don't have all the cognitive equipment needed to think carefully.
I am not saying you should ban your kids from all devices. Nor am I saying you should read every single test or message they send.
I am suggesting, however, that you engage. Just start. I'll send some very specific steps and suggestions in a subsequent newsletter.
For today, however, just think about regular check-ins. Here is one of the best ways I have found to get my kids to have important talks, and to engage in them.
You might also look into the various apps and resources that exist to help parents manage their children's digital lives. This can be daunting for sure, but there are various tools out there, and your choice doesn't have to be between total ignorance and total invasion of privacy.
You might also consider fighting fire with fire--use an app to help you. I know that might seem daunting for some people (it is for me). Happily, the folks at Consumers Advocate have put together a very helpful list of resources, They analyzed various parent control apps and the services they provide. The information is clear and easy to access. The link is here.
(Note: Short of receiving an email alerting me to their work, I do not have any relationship with this organization, nor do I make any money from them!).
Happy New Year--and happy parenting!
P.S. I have a new book coming out soon. It's a YA novel called Mindcracker. I will not do much selling here, but I will mention it a few times. Feel free to ignore! However, reviews are a critical part of launching a book, so I would be thrilled to send review copies to anyone who likes YA fiction. Some details are below for those who might be interested:
At sixteen, Molly is already the best bloody thought-snatcher in Victorian London, picking people’s minds and selling their secrets. When her growing talent captures the attention of Nicholas Montague, a brutal criminal who traffics in human beings, Molly flees.
Her escape is unexpectedly aided by a mysterious figure who communicates from the shadows in soft hisses whisper. This person promises to protect Molly—in exchange for one small favor: Molly must break into the only unbreakable mind in London, Sir Edward Carlton, lockbox for Her Majesty’s Government.
Desperate to escape Montague, Molly agrees. She gains entry to Sir Edward’s house, mind, and friendship. Sneaking into his thoughts each night, Molly soon finds herself enmeshed in a tangled web, unable to tell allies from enemies who blackmail, kidnap, and murder with ease.
As Molly continues to break into Sir Edward's mind, she starts questioning her orders and asking questions--too many for her mysterious employer.
Soon everyone Molly has ever loved is in danger, and every step she takes makes it worse. Unwilling to continue to be a pawn in a deadly game, Molly must choose between her life and the lives of those she loves—or use her wits and growing power to change the rules of the game.
Sign up for my parenting, fiction, and inspirational newsletters.
I will never give your information away!
Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
All content on this website, including the blog is protected by U.S. Copyright laws. It may not be copied without my express permission, although you are welcome to link to anything.
Please don't steal my words!