When my oldest was 14 he did not want oversight of his affairs and I gave him as much space as I felt was appropriate. On one occasion, he was angry and tried to get me to “butt out of his life”. It was tempting to just give in and back off – thinking there could be peace if I just complied with his demand. I knew I was not a perfect parent. I had certainly made mistakes. There have been many moments when I had doubts, but plowed ahead anyway because I am “the Mom”. Perhaps he was right? Am I overstepping my boundary?
But then I realized that if I acquiesced it would be abdication on my part. So I declared: “This is as good as it gets!” and I waived my hand up and down the length of my body. “God gave me to you as your mother,” I said. “And you do not get to dismiss me.”
There was deafening silence.
Yes, I am not perfect, but I also know that when my children have genuine needs, I should not be called off my pursuit to address them. After a few moments, the “mission from God” declaration still sinking into the silence as we both contemplated what was just said, I quietly left his room and gently closed the door as an act of mercy.
He really needed space.
Here is the thing about how the network culture impacts family business: it is easy to become disconnected from truth.
If your child was born in 1990 or later then you are parenting a digital native who cannot imagine a world without WWW connectivity.
In this environment, your authority as a parent is challenged on many fronts. If not by your child expecting you to trust him and abandon custodial responsibility, it will be by government regulations such as HIPAA that declare certain medical conditions of minor children private from parents, or the popular culture that ridicules the parent figure, or the law that assumes parents will not have standards for conduct and enforce consequences for bad and unsafe behavior.
Even more challenging is that kids are worldlier at early ages. They are conditioned for authority differently – it is more of relational experience and this first generation of parenting digital natives is being put to the test.
So let us never forget that parenting is and will always be a divine appointment; it is an expression of God’s love. It is the discipline at home as love language that provides order and peace amidst the chaos of the crowds outside and in the network.
The trick is to not surrender this authentic authority to the pressures of our time – especially the privacy adolescents declare as their birthright in a cyber-powered world. (Read more about genuine authority).
The truth is that there is no security in privacy from parents. That is how secrets are kept and become slippery slopes and burdens. Pedophiles and the “friend” culture count on children keeping secrets from parents. Anxieties and untruth thrive in dark, hidden places.
Every law enforcement officer with whom I have spoken has said that open communication and not giving children privacy are the two most important things parents can do for kids today. The risks of the network culture are real, and often go undetected by parents until it is too late. But more importantly, giving children the “things” they want and the freedom from parental oversight they demand is actually experienced as not being loved.
So when your child becomes defiant about “putting your nose inside their tents” now and again to inspect what you expect (i.e., good decisions and conduct), chances are they are holding onto a secret or carrying a burden in their heart. Sometimes there is an untruth, a stronghold inspiring them to erect boundaries at home that just become prisons (anxieties, cyberbullying, sexting, addiction).
The sooner we can help children appreciate that authentic boundaries is where we find our liberty and they demand transparency, our kids will experience genuine empowerment. House rules that reflect authentic boundaries are designed to respect the individual and protect the greater good of the family. They are not oppressive; rather they bind family members in a culture that values individual accountability, personal security and liberty. Below are some criteria:
Few, high-impact rules. It is better to have fewer rules that really are important and enforce them, rather than have lots of rules that are not consistently enforced.
Strong distinction between rights and privileges. Food, shelter and clothing are examples of things that children can expect from parents; while dessert, driving the car and use of Internet and mobile phones are privileges.
Follow the law. This is actually a huge relief for parents who feel like they need to justify rules about curfew, and driving, etc. If you stress abiding the law, there is very little to discuss or negotiate. It keeps things simple for you and your child.
Open communication. Means that children are allowed to express what’s on their minds, respectfully and will not be judged for it. It does not mean that you will agree or they will get their way, but it is an opportunity for you to repeat what you heard them say so they can know that you are listening.
Language matters. No foul language.
Unplug time. Establish a time at the end of the day when everyone, including Mom and Dad unplug from their smart phones.
Try not to go to bed angry. Settle disputes. Do not let them linger.
Cyber safety rules. Know the tools and applications used by your family. Transparency is mandatory. Children are instructed not to give our personal details for profiles without parental consent. Inspect mobile phones because they have the ability to transfer photos, access the Internet, and text. All contacts on phone, email and social websites are monitored by parent.
In my humble opinion, this is as good as it gets.
Joanna Jullien is an author 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.
Follow Joanna @CyberParenting