Blind spots are the stuff about our children’s lives that we cannot experience or know unless we are open to receiving data about our children, from sources other than our own children. In many cases the “new information” does not conform to our expectations.
There always have been blind spots in parenting.
However, the advent of the Internet and the mobile phone transformed the dynamics for communications with societal implications that leveled hierarchies at work and home; the model for formal authority that was once tied to social structure (position) carries less significance than it did for previous generations. Titles like “president”, “teacher” or “parent” carry less inherent authority. In a flat world, where hierarchies are traded for networks, authority is more related than ascribed.
Note: Social norms for citizenship are relaxed in this environment.
We can never be present in all aspects of our children’s lives. We do not see our children in every context. However, cyber parenting has intensified the level of ignorance possible for parents. Examples of blind spots happen when:
- Parents believe only what their children tell them via mobile phone. They do not inspect what they expect. Sexting and gossip are examples of the most common things law enforcement find on young peoples’ mobile phones – of which parents are completely ignorant
- Children engage in clandestine behavior on-line, that includes risky behavior (gambling, porn, drugs and alcohol, sexually explicit photos)
- Parents are relating only to the version of the child they “intend to raise” and have trouble accepting data about their child that requires correcting, and there is defending the child (also referred to as “not my child syndrome”).
How to recognize blind spots
When you are confronted by information about your child’s conduct or situation that causes a defensive reaction, likely you are confronting a blind spot. Or if you find yourself explaining away behavior brought to your attention and making excuses, this is a sign that you are likely “blind” to the reality of what is happening with your child.
It is a common problem of incorrect thinking that if we are good parents and our intentions for our children are honorable, this translates to our children’s actions in all circumstances.
This type of thinking is a boundary violation because our children have free will and it is our job to prepare them to exercise it responsibly. Which means it is our job to instill values at home and then allow our children to experience consequences, good and not good, for their decisions.
Blind spots can be hard to detect because children are very good at concealing what they believe will disappoint or meet with disapproval. And in a cyber-powered world, this capacity for doing more outrageous things and concealing them is greater.
Under the right circumstances with the wrong thinking, we are all capable of anything. This is the human condition. To be certain, it is human nature that we are all, especially children, subject to the pressures and manipulations of the world, hyped in the network. For youth, some examples include:
- Accepting “friend requests” from people they don’t know
- Agreeing to meet a stranger in person, they met on line (they may believe him to be a peer)
- Piling on to a cyberbully campaign
- Sending sexually explicit photos via text
- Plagiarism (cut and paste)
- Cheating (texting answers)
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Addictions to gambling and porn
Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6
How to overcome blind spots
Being a cyber parent requires us to be open to the possibility that our children will at some point do things that are out of the “character” we intend.
1. Confront blind spots with a heart at peace. Be open to the possibility that your child may be concealing things. This is why we inspect, what we expect. There must be no privacy. Explain to your child that you expect to catch them making good decisions. If you catch them making poor choices, then speak truth with mercy, no judging. Just explain why it is not okay and give your child a chance to stand corrected. For example, if you catch your child engaged in gossip, do not scold her on-line. Pull her aside and review with her the impact her actions have on others (do not allow her to digress to what the other kids are doing), and then give her a chance to correct it.
2. Do not freak out when you discover something disturbing. That is not to say that you excuse inappropriate or risky conduct. Rather you bring it into the light and examine it with your child, with a heart at peace. An angry and frightened heart will give the issue more life and power, and bring shame upon your child. The shame will drive a wedge between you. The ultimate aim is to be instructive and hold up the correct behavior standard for your child so that he can stand corrected, and be redeemed in your family. This is especially important when there are consequences your child must endure at school or work or in the sport, such as suspension or trouble with the law. Your child needs to know that you have confidence in his ability to endure the consequences, rise above the shame, and stand corrected (committed to doing the right thing).
3. Intervention for blind spots. In order to be in a position to help children recover from a poor course of action early, there are some proactive things you can do:
- Establish house cyber rules and consistently enforce them.
- Monitor your child’s on-line communications and activities
- Become familiar with your child’s applications and check the activity
- Have access to all your child’s on line accounts
- Set up age-appropriate user levels for wireless devices and applications
4. Some blind spots deserve recognition. You may find that the “new information” about your child is positive. Perhaps you discover from a neighbor that your daughter has been spending time with the younger children in the neighborhood reading them stories, and she never mentioned it to you. Acknowledge the things you hear that are positive as well. Catch your child doing things right too.
For more about over coming blind spots to strengthen the parent-teacher relationship, attend my presentation at Barnes and Noble in Roseville this Saturday, April 13, at 11 am.
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, a contributor for Three Moms and a Mike, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM, Tuesdays.
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