How do we parent in a media saturated world? The first step is to be intentional about how we choose to guide our children in appropriately use of technology. This can be difficult because many parents did not grow up with technology in their pockets. We were never taught how to navigate our young and impulsive social lives, boundaries, repairs, and sexual exploration online. For many, there is a big gap between what we have experienced as children and what our children are experiencing; often leading us feeling inadequate when approaching this subject. I want to encourage those of us who fit this demographic of parenting to take a deep breath and know that we do not have to understand everything about technology to have this conversation well.
Know Your Basics
First, it is important to know that as the parent of a minor (a child under the age of 18) we are responsible for our child’s technology use. This includes misuse. If fact, courts have found parents liable if they did not limit or supervise their child’s actions. It is now your job to guide your child in the appropriate use of online profiles (Facebook, Instagram…), online ‘chat’ conversations (texting, Snapchat, WhatsApp…), online privacy (hacking, impersonations, identity theft…), online bullying and online sexual exploration and expression (pornography and sexting). In order to do this, you need to have access to this platform. For this reason, I advise parents to openly monitor all the devices their children are using.
Openly Monitoring Devices
It is tempting to want to monitor your child’s devices without letting them know. This way you can avoid the awkward conversation and really see what they are up to. This backfires in big ways. I have sat with too many parents who have done this and when their child steped over the line they were stuck. Do they now tell the child they have been eavesdropping? How will this impact the relationship? Will they ever trust me again? As a counsellor I have experienced many parents who waited to long to intervene and take the opportunity to parent in this sphere because they felt the cost was to high. This can have devastating impacts that may include legal action or child predator invasions.
When you choose to openly monitor your child’s devices you are building trust instead of tearing it down. Liken this scenario to your parent reading your diary. Doesn’t feel good. In fact, it can break trust in the relationship all together. When you choose to openly monitor your child’s devices you are letting them know that they have parents in all aspects of their life and that they do not have to navigate very complex, ethical and personal dilemmas alone. You are communicating to them that they are not alone.
I know what some of you are thinking, “Ya, easy for you to say. You don’t know my child. They would never let me do this!”. Let me be clear. Your child Will Not want your eyes on their screens. Some deep and healthy desires in childhood are independence and freedom. They will want to preserve this. But this is not a matter of ‘letting them’ do anything. As the parent YOU are responsible (personally and legally) for their activity on their devices. Even if your child bought their device with their own money you are the legal guardian of the minor and your guardianship extends to their devices.
So, make this is non-negotiable. Be clear with them, if they have access to devices they will be monitored. If they refuse, then they do not get access to their devices.
How do I Start this Conversation?
I suggest sitting your child (or children) down to have a ‘family meeting’. If your children live in two separate households try your best to be on the same page as the co-parent before this conversation. If at all possible have all parents (mom, dad, step-parents) in the room at the same time to set the ground-rules. Ideally you have this conversation the moment your child starts using devices (approximately one third of preschoolers use tablets unsupervised). Likely your child has been on devices and unmonitored for some time. This will make it more difficult but more important to start the conversation now.
A conversation example might sound like this:
It has been brought to our attention that we need to start monitoring your devices (phone, computer, iPad etc.). Not because you have been doing anything wrong but because as your parents we would like to be more involved in your life and need to be parenting all aspects, and this includes online. So, we will be sitting down with each of you individually to go through your phone and computer (iPad etc.) once a month at a time of our choice. There will be no warning. We will expect that at this time you will guide us through the different APP’s and sites you are using and we will be checking that your internet history is not deleted. Also, we will be installing monitors that will flag us if questionable sites arise. Our hope is not to read every text or conversation you have with your friends, but the conversations you are having should be kind and considerate. I know this might feel shocking. I want you to know though that everything you do online is not private already. Even when it feels private it isn’t.
What to Expect
As stated in my previous articles, your child will likely not have the response you are hoping for. Instead of staying in the room and having a back-and-fourth conversation they will likely go into coping such as fight, flight or freeze. Some will have very large expressions (swearing, throwing things, tantrums). Some might show anger and threaten. Some might try to negotiate (none of my other friends’ parents’ do this!). While others might freeze (go silent) or flee (walk out of the room and slam the door). Often it is a combination. I encourage you to allow your children to have whatever response that comes up. If it is an inappropriate response (damage self, others or property), approach the behavior after they have calmed down – often a few hours later.
Check your expectations before going into the conversation and don’t make it about a witch hunt. Focus on parenting your child’s virtual reality well from this day forward.
Hold Your Boundaries and Follow Through
After you have had a conversation with clear expectations of monitoring all devices with your children be sure to follow through. In order to make it easier on you and them be consistent in following up on their devices regardless of whether you wonder if inappropriate activity is occurring. The monthly (or weekly) check sets a pattern they come to rely on. If checking is inconsistent and you forget a month or two your child’s anxiety will raise when the subject is re-approached. When parents consistently follow through I have known children to feel relieved. They now have an excuse to tell their friends that they can not participate in online activity that would get them in trouble. It gives them an ‘out’.
This conversation can be very difficult. Some parents find it helpful to utilize the support of a family therapist to start this conversation, especially when there are multiple homes involved. I want to encourage you to reach out and get the support you need to start this conversation.
I wish you well on your parenting journey!
If you would like to book a group presentation surrounding this subject visit www.experiencechange.ca for more information.