Friday, November 2, 2012

Free Ranging and the Internet: Boy, Do We Have It Wrong

Every week or so, I read another article on the Internet for parents, explaining how to spy on their kids through technology and justifying the behavior with stories of bullied children or teenagers gone wild.

To all of those article writers, parenting "experts", and helicopter-enablers:  I call bullshit.

We, as parents, spend time every day teaching our kids what we consider right and wrong from the moment they are born.  Unless you are in the military and have been deployed the entire time your child has lived, you have role-modeled appropriate behavior for your kids, from putting away your shoes to how you use the Internet.  If you play video games, I guarantee that your kids will love video games.  If you read book, your child will most likely be a book lover.  And I must admit, I love how much my kids want to spend time together talking about life, playing card games, and going on walks.

But at some point, you need to let go.  That means trusting in your own parenting skills and trusting your child.

Trust means that you don't install apps on their computer, tablet, cell phone, or smart phone to track your kid's movements both on line and in real life.  Trust means that you don't read your kid's Facebook page, blog, or other online persona unless you are willingly invited to.  Even then, I would decline the invitation to show that you know your child can handle himself or herself.  Trust means you don't look through the web browser's history to see what web pages your child visited.

Otherwise, you are NOT trusting your child.

In fact, if you look over your child's shoulder in any of these ways, you are telling your child that you do not think he or she is trustworthy.

Period.

Trust is binary - either you trust your kid or you don't trust your kid.  There is no middle ground, no "well, maybe..." in this equation.  Once your kid is old enough - around the age of 10-13 - you have the choice to either reinforced your kid's self-confidence by trusting her, or the choice to treat her as a sneaky, no-good, low-down, dirty liar who simultaneously will break every rule ever given her while forgetting how to protect herself to become an instant victim.

Do you really think that way about your own child?

If you do, then I suggest therapy, for both you and your family.  If you don't, then think about the message you send when you install iGuardian Teen, an instant spy tool for the discerning parent.  The message is "I have no trust that you will obey traffic laws, so I must be aware of every move you make so that I can criticize correct how you drive."

Or the message you send when you install MinorMonitor.  "Personally, I think I did a poor job of raising you to handle the real world.  You clearly will never notice when you get bullied, and if you did notice you would never tell me since I close down lines of communication every chance I get.  So I am monitoring your Twitter and Facebook pages to keep you safe, since you are unequipped and unable to do that yourself."

If you worry about your child's online safety, might I suggest the radical idea of talking to your child about your fears and then listening to him respond to your fears.  Maybe your child already has a strategy to handle online bullies.  Maybe she knows how to distinguish a pervert from a nice person.  And if your kid does not have these skills, then chances are neither do you and the two of you can learn them together.

Before anyone gets upset and starts down the "but I know my kid will see porn/violence/bad stuff", I am not saying that your kids won't see what you consider inappropriate images or "bad stuff".   In fact, finding such bad stuff is a way for your kid to internally begin the emotional break from childhood to adult. Looking at nude people or violence might even help your kid define her own definition of "bad stuff".

So suck it up.  If you ever want your kid to grow into a functioning, healthy adult, you need to act like an adult now and let go.

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