A survey by VoucherCloud.net via MediaPost revealed that 75% of parents snoop on their teen’s social media. The article concludes that parents have to be sneaky because teens don’t want to share with parents what is happening. And while it is vital that parents provide protective cover for their minor children, the higher objective of educating kids to be self-governing can become lost by responding with more “secret behavior” on the part of the parent.
Parents who are spying must also be aware that no matter how savvy you are with technology, it is easy for teens to hide their social media activity by creating different user profiles with different social media apps (Kik, SnapChat, Instagram). Many teens access private texting apps that do not require a mobile account (What’sApp, Kik). Social media apps are dynamic and new apps are surfacing every day. Much of your teen’s cyber communications and photo sharing activity may not show up on your telecommunications bill or on the device for that matter.
Related reading: Five social media apps to put on the parent radar
Confusion inspired by cyber connectivity
There is confusion between private and secret, and trust and faith. Parents feel the same pressure youth feel to believe things that are not true. Private, for example, is the act of keeping personal information from the world, not from parents. Whereas secrets harbor risky conduct and circumstances. And yet in the cyber realm, it is easy to perceive that keeping secrets is a form of privacy.
I hear from parents that their children are desperate to have privacy, claiming it is a right and that not “trusting” the child with the device is hurting the relationship. Naturally, children seek complete autonomy with their smartphones and mobile devices – it is a power crisis that inspires isolation from oversight and connecting with truth. Often the presence of a parent feels like an offense, and there is temptation on the part of the parent to keep the peace by not engaging about what is happening in their children’s on line experiences. Pedophiles and sex traffickers are counting on this reasoning, as they troll for vulnerable souls expressing their emotions in the social network.
And by the same token, when parents do monitor, by sneaking or snooping, there can be a sense of satisfaction that they could not find anything worrying (but that can be a false indicator), or they may feel guilty “violating” the trust of their child.
I have found it helpful to keep in mind that trust among people is always verifiable while faith is reserved for God who requires no proof. Governing cyber-powered homes requires us to honor this distinction.
Redefining the parent role as “truth advisor”
A more effective strategy is to encourage your teen to be open and transparent, and establish that your role as the guardian is to train them how to retain personal power. When you approach this challenge by first recognizing that your child has God-given intelligence and free will, and can choose to obey boundaries that protect their personal liberty, you are then initiating a dialogue rooted in truth which cannot be denied because it is authentic.
And your hope and confidence lies in your child’s ability to choose to honor this simple truth as you do. This is the authenticity digital natives seek, but cannot find in the social network.
Tips for being present in your child’s cyber realm, without snooping
- Clarify key concepts:
- Free will is personal power. Acknowledge to your child, their personal power to make choices. You cannot make them share with you. Your number one concern is helping your child learn how to use free will wisely, in the cyber and physical realms.
- Trust and faith. Trust is always verifiable between people, while faith is reserved for God, who requires no proof.
- Private and secret. Private is keeping personal stuff from “the world” while secret involves hiding risky conduct and circumstances from parents and other trusted adults. Secrets do not serve “self”, but rather enable suffering and bondage to go on unabated (i.e., gossip, drug abuse, sexual exploitation).
- Hightower cyber parenting. Be clear about your role as the guardian, a chief advisor for personal security. You respect their privacy (don’t lecture and comment on everything you see or hear), but you do not grant it. Never forget your minor child is not your roommate.
- Family motto. Try a family motto that conveys a culture of transparency, for example: “inspect what you expect”. You expect your child to be making good decisions for the most part; and you expect them to be also making decisions that could be risky associated with their age. When you find them doing things right, acknowledge it, and when you discover something frightening or disappointing, don’t freak out. Get them talking about it, help them stand corrected with the consequences, and get help (legal and/or counseling) as needed. Mostly though, your presence in their on-line world is in the “silent observer” mode as a stalwart guardian for their personal security.
Learn more about establishing Cyber Rites of Passage. Go to: A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.
- Cyber safety for kids and families on TheFish103.9FM (videos)
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- Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner
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- Email: Jullien@surewest.net
Jodie Stevens, hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM The Fish offers insights and lessons learned about faith and recovery from addiction. Check out her blog, Genuine Life with Jodie Stevens, weekday mornings on the Family Morning Show.