Would you give your child the keys to your car with a prepaid credit card for unlimited gas to go wherever and whenever they wanted? Probably not. Then why would any parent allow that same child to go online wherever and whenever without adult approval, consent, and / or supervision? Children rule today's households – it's time to reclaim the throne.
I've shared my strong and concerned views before with my inner circle, and will do so with you in the public now.
This one is about children / teenagers with online identities and the dangers that can so easily come with a freedom too widespread and too infrequently monitored. To those parents and friends who may wonder, "What's the worst that can happen?" I would humbly note the Amanda Todd tragedy in Vancouver, BC early October 2012.
I'm considered a strict parent in my household about how I feel towards under-aged online identities. I've certainly felt the pressure and criticism from our children despite hours of conversation about the dangers of cyberland. I am totally uncool but at the end of the day, I can guarantee that our kids are neither bullied nor do they bully – at least online.
It's a tough one, to be so uncool, but I'd rather deal with that than face a horrific tragedy down the road. I experience moments of awkwardness with my own friends too whose children of all ages enjoy the online privileges ours so desperately crave but I don't think that I want to be that cool if it means that my children are placed in jeopardy.
What I've observed on social media walls from (pre)teens that I personally know – which provides limited windows to their friends – has been utterly uncomfortable. These future 'adults' generally can't spell, don't have a clue about grammar, and their content is far from age-appropriate for the most part. 13yr-old girls upload 'sexy' profile photos that make them look closer to being 20yrs of age. Far worse, most of their profiles, friends lists, walls, and personal information are set completely to public. Since I work online through my various endeavours, I can pinpoint exactly where and how these can become potential risks to children and I alert their parents to the best of my ability if I know them personally... But where are the other parents?
And it's not just online activity that should be a concern for parents... Kids today have their own cellular phones which grant further access to a greater digital world 24hrs per day by switching their devices to 'wi-fi' (this is where your bill for 'data usage' skyrockets!). They download apps with a freedom far too extensive for them, Facebook or Twitter or post on any other 'social media', text, and email (which is almost obsolete in this generation) like it's their only lifeline. To them, nothing else seems to matter socially, and they hardly interact face-to-face even amongst their own peers. Classic sleepovers of yesteryear are gone – yes, gone! Standard ones today are mere tech gatherings where the coolest gadgets and apps are shared. It's almost as if 'the world' knows more about them than those who love them...
Don't get me started on 'blocking' – a feature in social media that they are experts on!
Here's a recent story from our household.
We discovered last weekend that one of our daughters opened a Facebook account behind our backs during a sleepover. She knew the family rules but still crumbled to the pressure from her peers. She crumbled over Facebook, Facebook for goodness sakes! What happens when it's about sex, drinking, then drugs, or dangerous and even criminal activity? So we decided to spot check all of our children's devices. We were astonished to uncover that beyond their Hotmail accounts that we had set up for them and monitor, they also created for themselves YouTube accounts, Gmail / Google+ accounts, Instagram accounts, Skype accounts, etc. without our knowledge and consent. One of our daughters even had a 'love' chat room app on her phone...
We were hurt and disappointed. And there was an element of betrayal there too.
They were all reprimanded immediately. Everything got taken away from them – all accounts were deleted, computer use in their rooms is not allowed 'for homework' anymore, and cel phone activity is banned the second they come in from school until they leave for school the next morning.
We had trusted them to a point. We had given them age-appropriate freedom in small doses. Now they have to earn it all back.
All of it.
Do you have your child(ren)'s passwords to their phone(s) and all of their online accounts? What are their privacy settings? Do you know who their digital friends are? Are you aware how much time they spend in digital worlds?
One more question. Whose responsibility is it to keep your child(ren) safe, informed, and educated about online activities?
The social workers?
Or you, the parent?
Children are inquisitive and the progression to adulthood requires healthy doses of teen rebellion. These are the stepping stones towards self-definition and differentiation. To deny this truth is to deny reality – not to mention the development of their personal histories. I call it young-adults-in-training in our household and try to remember that we were teens once too. What kids don't understand today is that what goes online, stays online forever. It's not just cyberbullying that we need to talk about. It's not just about remembering to wear a pink shirt several times per year... Today's kids are building identities online that cannot be erased once they've outgrown this phase. And they just don't get it. Pushing boundaries? Yes, teens certainly have and will continue to do so as they always have. We accept that that's the nature of the beast... But to put it simply, if an easily-accessible, permanent, and global record of every stupid thing you said and did as a teen existed, would you readily enable your child(ren) to make one for themselves?
I can't imagine what kids do in households where important conversations are either infrequent or don't take place. We – mostly 'I' – talk to our kids on a regular basis about all of this. We've talked about Amanda Todd's tragedy, about online identity fraud, stalking, suicide, self injury which usually also includes eating disorders, and online predators amongst other things.
Positive online and other such adult activities come in due time, I've promised... We are honest about everything in our family discussions and it's not ever a one-time conversation – these are repeated every couple of months. They are also known to the children as the infamous '2-hour talks' (which would be shorter if they didn't interrupt with their silly giggles so often!).
Still, our daughter ignored all of this and went behind our backs... blocked us from her Facebook account so that we would never know.
Because kids are not mature enough to understand fully what's at stake. That's right – they're kids, kids playing with fire in an online world better suited for informed adults. Let me ask, would you give your child the keys to your car with a prepaid credit card for unlimited gas to go wherever and whenever they wanted? Probably not. Then why would any parent allow that same child to go online wherever and whenever without adult approval, consent, and / or supervision?
As good parents, we may all be striving to street-proof this emerging generation, but we need to be mindful of digitally proofing them too. There is a great journey ahead for all of us while this continues to remain uncharted territory for modern-day parents.
Children rule today's households, this is generally true.
It's time we reclaimed the throne.
We will make mistakes – sure – but to be the 'best friend' you can be to your child through to adulthood... please remember to be their parent first. •
©2012 SayItCanada.ca. All rights reserved.
HOW CAN KIDS AND TEENS STAY SAFE ONLINE
GOVERNMENT OF ALBERTA WEBSITE
- Never give out your real name, age, address, phone number or any other information like passwords or the location of your school to a stranger online.
- Use a nickname and never tell people your real name.
- Pick a password that is hard for others to guess and never share it with anyone except your parents.
- Remember that people you meet online may not be who they say they are.
- If someone you don't know approaches you or makes you feel uncomfortable online, tell your parents and do not respond to them.
- Always check with your parents before entering a chat room and tell your parents about your online friends.
- Don't send a photo of yourself online and if someone asks for a photo of you or sends you a photo, notify your parents or a teacher.
- Never agree to meet someone in person that you have met online. Tell your parents if someone has asked to meet you. If your parents agree that you can meet someone you have met online, make sure you arrange a meeting in public with your parents there.
- Do not open email attachments from unknown senders.
- Never respond to spam or junk mail.
- Remember that nothing you write on the web or email is completely private.
- Think carefully about where you put your webcam -- do not put it in a location that would give away personal information about you or your family.
- Always unplug or cover your webcam when it is not in use.
- Don't enter contests, or buy or accept gifts without first discussing it with your parents. •
HOW CAN PARENTS HELP PROTECT THEIR KIDS ONLINE
GOVERNMENT OF ALBERTA WEBSITE
- Place computers in a high-traffic area of your home so you can monitor your child's Internet use.
- Teach children how to exit a website quickly and that they should discuss things they see or read that make them uncomfortable.
- Get to know your child's online friends like you would any other friend.
- Remind your kids to behave online as they would in public. Explain to them they should never write anything in an email that they would not want the world to read.
- Set up rules for your child. Agree when and for how long they can engage in online activity, as well as what sites they are allowed to visit.
- Maintain open lines of communication with your child regarding their Internet use. Ask them where they go and what they do online, and get them to show you.
- Get to know chat room and web-related slang. Ask your child to explain it to you.
- Check to make sure your child's instant messaging program is set up so no one can speak to him/her without permission.
- Remind your children that everything they read online may not be true. An offer that seems "too good to be true" likely is.
- Encourage your children to use the telephone to communicate with friends.
- Pay attention to your child's behaviour.
- Assist with the creation of your child's online profiles.
- When signing up for games, provide a family or parental email address rather than your child's.
- Find out what computer safeguards are used at your child's school, public library or friends' houses. Consider all the places where your child could go online.
- Set an example for your children by following the rules you set out for them. Be careful of what personal information you give out and what files you download. •
©2012 SayItCanada.ca. All rights reserved.