~ 31 Days of Parenting Teens & Tweens, Day 11 ~
The world wide web forever changed parenting. By introducing a host of decisions non-existent a decade ago, the internet heightens the responsibility of a parent to be informed about the rewards and risks associated with online activity.
Five over-arching thoughts come to mind as this relates to your tween/teen:
1) Respect their increasing need for privacy.
It could be you're a blogger who began with the intention of sharing adorable toddler pictures only with family and close friends. Perhaps you're a proud mama who can't help but tell the world about her kid making the volleyball team. Or maybe with the easy accessibility of Facebook and Twitter, you're quick to update before you think…
Whatever the case, talk to your t(w)een about their comfort level with regard to what you publish about them.
I didn't begin blogging until my children were beyond the cute baby years, but it became clear early on my oldest did not like me to share stories about the things she said or did. I was slow to understand, eventually driving her to exasperation. Over time, we settled on this: I could write about experiences as they related to me, how I was processing her growing up, but not a tell-all on what was going on in her life. My boys love me blogging about them, but even so, I've learned the hard way to ask before posting.
- If I knew then what I know now, I would never have used my children's real names.
- Be wise about checking in on Foursquare, Gowalla, etc. at their school or where they participate in extra curricular activities.
- Understand their preferences will likely change; what they're okay with in sixth grade won't necessarily fly as a sophomore.
- Realize if you don't respect their preferences, they'll resent you.
2) Don't get social with their friends
In general, teens do not want you to comment to their friends' updates on Facebook; do so sparingly (tweens, according to FB policy aren't allowed to have an account). I've even gone so far as to ask their friends what they think about parents (typically moms) commenting and it's subjective depending on the status (how's that for no help at all?). Mostly, I sensed pity or contempt.
Stalk them, pay attention to what their friends are saying, but don't let that be the space you build relationship with them; in this day and time, I have to stress ESPECIALLY with your opposite gender.
And that relationship you're building? It's not time to be their friends' friend, develop relationship in the context of "trusted adult authority figure."
3) It's almost impossible to squeeze toothpaste back into the tube.
Remember the teacher who was Drill Sergeant-strict the first day of school, whom you greatly feared but respected, vs the teacher you adored because she was so nice, but the class was out of control? And no matter how well the latter tried to reel the chaos in later, that class never settled down?
Online freedom is a lot like that.
If you're reading this and your children are younger, you can not be too diligent in restricting their activity. If your children are older and used to online freedom, it's nearly impossible to go backwards.
As attentive as we have been, I still feel like we could have done better. At a minimum:
- Install a filter on all computers in the house. We've used Net Nanny for years; it sends instant notification if a blocked category has been viewed or attempted, allowing me to address it immediately. Disreputable sites are smart; they've found ways to code their sites so filters miss their foul content. I've been stunned by websites my children have accidently accessed researching content for school projects. At least I was made aware through Net Nanny notification (since I'm an affiliate, you can save 25% when you click through this link ). Moms need to keep the only password…
- When they open an account, require access to their username and password. Do this on the front end; you'll meet resistence then, but it's much more problematic later. I'm not suggesting you spy on their every word, but it lets your kids know you can….
4) Stress the difference between Real Life and Online relationships.
This is HUGE; it has lifelong repercussions. Even with instruction, conversation and coaching from parents, youth workers and teachers, teens will measure their value by their number of friends and followers, and by how often they're commented to, liked or re-posted.
You have got to counter that with positive, encouraging TRUTH.
Never has there been a time in history where people are more connected yet less intimate. It's grievous.
5) Set limits.
Social media is addictive; thanks to smart phones, it's available 24/7 in the palm of your hand (though I'm adamantly opposed to t(w)eens having smart phones).
- Don't allow kids behind closed doors with a laptop.
- Limit the amount of time they're spending online.
- Engage them in on-going conversations about the dangers of their online activity.
- I'm not suggesting you wave a red flag and cram this dogma down their throat :). I am recommending that this not be a one-time lecture where they're hardly listening.
- Coach them in what not to say: when and where they have practices; who they're meeting at the mall, etc.
- Have them restrict their FB privacy settings to Friends only and remind them to accept requests only from people they know.
- Bikini pictures are never okay.
- Make sure they understand you're on their side and your goal is their protection!
- Be clear that the person they're in conversation with is likely not the ONLY person who will read the update/email/etc. Parents, potential employers…
This is one of those boundaries where teens will fight you. Just remember you're the parent, you know more than they do when it comes to the ways of the world, and you're still the boss of them.
Your turn: What is your largest concern when it comes to your t(w)een's online activity? Do you think I'm too strict? Lenient? Do you have additional helpful advice for others? Horror stories? Or what have you read that you're going to start doing…TODAY?
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