I’ve written about online safety plenty of times, posted videos of me talking about this subject at a local high school, and even led discussions at parenting groups on the subject. There are a couple of problems with the topic, though, one of which is that each parent has a different perspective on how safe or unsafe the online world is for their children.
The bigger problem, though, is that our devices keep becoming more and more personal, which means that it’s getting increasingly difficult to keep an eye on things, whether you think you should be a heavy-handed online guardian or just someone who performs an occasional online audit.
For parents that believe the online world is safe and that statistics are on their side, well, I wish you luck. It might be true that looking at the numbers suggests the vast majority of kids are going to be fine online, I ask whether you’re okay with your 8yo son viewing hardcore pornography? Or your 11yo daughter reading about heinous crimes against women in foreign lands? Or your 14yo sharing the latest blatantly racist, homophobic or sexist “iFunny” post with their pals?
MEANWHILE, IN MY HOUSE…
With an 18yo, 15yo and 11yo, I’ve had plenty of experience wrestling with this topic in our house, and it’s been clear more than once that these devices are great at wasting time and distracting us, but not particularly beneficial. It’s just insidious because they’re such capable, multi-function devices.
My 11yo has an iPod Touch that she loaded up with games and some small number of social media apps. Her Instagram account is private and she only follows our friends, but does that make it a good idea? She has SnapChat, but only so she can SnapChat her sister. At least, that’s what she assures me. And she and her hi-tech buddy C- often FaceTime to chat about homework and school.
The streaming music side of things is problematic too. If she hasn’t earned any time to play on the device, she’ll still insist she wants it “for music”. Right? Wrong? Is there a way to disable everything but streaming music, now that I think about it? Probably not.
An important factor in this discussion is modeling. I know I heard from my youngest time and again how it was unfair that every single person in the family not only had a smart phone — we’re an all iPhone family at this point — but that everyone was constantly on their devices. Except her. And that kinda stinks. Meanwhile our culture wants even little babies finding smart phones fun and entertaining diversions, as exemplified by the #1 best seller in the learning toys section of Amazon, shown above.
Here’s the hard truth: To raise children who have the self-control to balance their devices with involvement with the real world, we have to demonstrate the same behavior every single day.
Honestly, the fact that kids learn more from watching what we do than what we tell them to do is probably the hardest and least expected facet of good parenting!
Once your child has access to the entire Internet in their pocket, however, it’s a disaster in the making. From naughty Google searches to hours wasted playing mindless games, to inappropriate communications with friends — and that’s not just sexting or cyberbullying — to an inability to stay focused on any one thing for more than 90 seconds, it’s a dangerous lure, the siren song to them losing their way on the journey through the dark valley of adolescence into maturity, physical and emotional.
The solution is for us parents to figure out how we want to interact with our own devices, how present we want them to be in our lives, and then to help both model and teach a similar balance to our children too, whether they’re six or sixteen.
And that, my friends, can be damn hard.