Over the past decade, I have had hundreds of conversations with law enforcement, educators, parents, youth and psychologists about the impact of cyber communications on children and families. Cyber citizenship issues for children today are well defined by the most uncivil, risky and criminal behavior law enforcement and educators observe about children using social media and texting:
- Sexting (sending inappropriate photos) is more common than parents realize
- Gossip is rampant
- Abuse of drugs and alcohol
- Bullying common – our children are not at peace in their communities
- Easier for pedophiles to groom victims because emotionally vulnerable kids using social media may be easily convinced that a stranger really cares about them. (A couple of weeks ago a 15-year old Sacramento girl met a stranger via social media and ran away with him because she believed he loved her. )
Our parenting culture has not caught up with the network culture. Generations past could rely upon norms for what is legal and safe being upheld for children. Today this is not true, because the cyber communications make it easy to conceal risky conduct, and the children spawn virtual communities where the norms are lowered, and the voice of parental wisdom is silent.
There is a lack of confidence about parental authority. In this networked environment, parents are at risk of being clueless and over controlling. We can become anxious and fearful because we are parenting in uncharted territory and children are naturally drawn to the touch screen; they are truly digital natives seduced into a cyber wilderness fraught with danger.
So who will our children follow?
Security in the cyber wilderness is tied to self-governance
Parents can reclaim their genuine authority in ways that attract the hearts and minds of children and create a more peaceful home environment no matter what else is going on in the world.
Become a trusted resource.
It is possible to instill self discipline in your child’s heart and mind for the appropriate use of cyber communications and thereby deepen the loving bond with your child.
Exchange fear for holy confidence. Trade your fears and doubts for a confident communication strategy. In your own mind, first return to the fundamentals of human nature, and the mustard seeds of faith that made the founding of the republic of the United States possible:
- God is sovereign
- He grants individuals intelligent life and free will
- Therefore, we can help our children to be self-governing in the network and be less vulnerable to the untruth and risky behavior
- In this regard, parenting is a divine appointment and parents have the authority of protective cover for their minor children
When you are resolved in your own heart and mind of this fundamental truth about the nature of the parent-child relationship, and have confidence to speak truth and establish house rules that serve to protect individual liberty, then it is possible to become a trusted resource for your child. Children do seek this authenticity and will be attracted to your words of wisdom spoken with a heart at peace and a profound confidence in their ability to understand the truth. They instinctively know when you are sincere about respecting their free will and you are training them to make good choices on their own.
Inventory beliefs and values. Review your values and beliefs with your child – what really matters? For example, loving God and others means demonstrating respect for individuals, even when they offend you – might be one of the most important things for your family. And so it is therefore imperative to find a respectful way to confront people with whom you have issues.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:30-31
So list your values, perhaps starting with safety; here are some more examples
- Good citizenship
- Everybody pitches in
The fundamental premise of self-governance is that we are depending upon one another in the family, in friendship circles, in the classroom and on campus, to be good citizens. Good citizens on and off line respect others and are respected by others.
Promote integrity with house rules. Discuss how house rules are in alignment with beliefs and values. Such as, all cyber communications are transparent (parents conduct random checks, and there are no secrets), and the mobile devices get checked in at night. Norms for what is safe, courteous and legal need to be upheld at home. Parents need to get rid of the notion that there is privacy between minor children and parents. Inspect what you expect. Tell your children you expect to catch them doing things right. And if you catch poor judgment or actions, then help them stand corrected and give them a clean slate. Why? Because you have faith in God’s sovereignty and your child needs to know you expect he is capable of good self-governance by the grace of God – not by our controlling hands or wagging fingers.
For more on house rules go to: Age-appropriate use of mobile devices
If we equip our children with family beliefs and values as their compass, and reinforce these values with house rules, then we have prepared them to be good citizens on and off line, and they are less vulnerable to the nefarious influences in the network, especially bullying.
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is 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, Tuesdays.
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