Modern youth are relying upon multiple channels of cyber communication to stay connected socially. Their preferred apps range from Instagram and Facebook to instant messaging/texting media sites like Twitter, Kik and SnapChat – none of which require an account with an ISP to sign up for services. It is possible to establish accounts without parental consent or knowledge. Any internet-enabled device will do. Furthermore, social media apps are dynamic (new ones are popping up all the time), they are rich in variety (all of them offering photo and video capabilities along with texting), and it is not a realistic expectation to anticipate the social media apps where kids want to hang out.
Services like YourSphere and Common Sense Media offer excellent updates on the state of popular social media and the nature of their content. In a more recent update, CSM batches the social media into categories: texting apps (Kik,WhatsApp), micro-blogging apps (Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr,Vine), self-destructing/secret apps (SnapChat, Whisper, BurnNote), and chatting and meeting apps (Tinder, MeetMe, Omegle). Some of these are anonymous (YikYak) and are designed for adults to meet strangers for dates (Tinder). The fact that there are age restrictions on these sites does little to prevent an eager beaver from getting started without oversight and support.
More importantly, in this cyber social realm, youth are exposed to inappropriate content that can inspire feelings of shame and guilt (whether your child has engaged in any inappropriate communications or not). Think about the first time you witnessed something that inspired shame (such as a pornographic image or another person humiliating someone). Did you run home to tell your parents about it? Probably not. The feelings of fear and shame inspired by inappropriate or dehumanizing content kill open communication, which is essential for two things:
- Knowing where your child is really hanging out on line.
- Imparting the spiritual wisdom of your chosen faith.
Without open communication it is not possible to provide protective cover and instruction to your child in a hyper-connected world.
Related: Harvesting the good from the evil in the social network (Romans 12:2)
Respond to risk and uncertainty with confidence
All of this uncertainty and risk can inspire great fear in the hearts of parents; especially parents of youth in grade school and middle school where there is a great push for cyber independence. By the same token, the cyber-powered realm also introduces a power and control crisis that is a great opportunity to strengthen the parent-child bond which results from building trust and establishing open communication. Below are some tips to promote open communication in your home.
- Get educated. Set up “news alerts” for kids and social media (through your on-line news service, such as Google, or Reddit). Banana Moments Foundation and other websites like YourSphere and Common Sense Media can also keep you informed about what is trending with the apps.
- Get interested in your child. This means that you are not trying to micromanage your child, but actually seek to have your child educate you on how their childhood is informing them. Be curious about their interests and their concerns. Encourage them to also talk about the things that disturb their peace. And remember your opinion and wisdom are not necessarily the same thing. Opinions tend to be rooted in fearful desires to be in control, and when we express our opinions about what our children are experiencing, the signal they get is that it is not safe to share.
- Protective cover and guidance. And when they do share, be careful not to jump to conclusions or take action when something troubling surfaces. Get your child thinking for himself about what to do if they encounter a disturbing circumstance. And if you must step in for security reasons, be sure to clarify your role as the guardian and educator – not as the savior. Your child needs to learn by watching and listening to how you respond to any inappropriate (nudity) or unkind things (bullying) encountered on line. They can learn from you how to defend their own liberty, but not if you are taking charge as if they are helpless. Think about pursuing justice for all involved, holding everyone accountable with a heart full of mercy and hope – including your own child. The kids involved in disturbing the peace need help too.
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)
- Follow Joanna @CyberParenting
- Like Banana Moments
- Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner
- Sign up to receive Banana Moments quarterly and monthly updates
- 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.