Parents are equipping kids with mobile phones at earlier ages, and the number one reason is a belief that a phone enables communication that will keep them safe.
But does use of a mobile phone make a child safe?
Our natural inclination is to want to keep control over our children’s circumstances through constant communication.
By the same token, we can wind up giving into the wrong kind of fear and not preparing our children to be safe on their own. In the end, we prevent them from developing their own skills to become secure through their independence, and we make them anxious.
Mary Lisa Patton, BA, CADCI, works with children and families at Therapeutic Solutions 360 in Roseville. “I have noticed that children are getting mobile phones at a younger age so parents can stay in contact with them,” Patton said. “Unfortunately some parents are using the mobile phone as a way to control their children instead of giving them some freedom and room to develop independently.”
According to Patton, this constant connectivity makes parents and children anxious. “Constant texting or calling children to inquire about their whereabouts or what they have been doing only heightens this anxiety further. This ‘overbearing communication’ can break the fragile bond of trust between parent and child; delaying the child’s ability to learn to make some responsible choices independent of their parents which is a requirement for healthy development,” Patton said.
This anxiety comes from becoming dependent upon someone else for your security.
The most authoritative and loving thing we can do for our children is to help them to be self-governing. That means experiencing their capacity to be secure in age appropriate contexts.
This starts very early.
For example, when my youngest was an infant we moved into a two-story home. Rather than putting up a gate at the top and bottom of the stairs, I trained my infant son to get down the stairs by himself safely, on his belly, feet first. Now I could have also used the gates, but if I had not also trained him to safely navigate the stairs, the chances of the gate being unlatched, or him figuring out how to unlatch it would be great, and he would be at risk of taking a major tumble.
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26.3
Like the stairs in our home, navigating the cyber world is inevitable for children. The sooner we help them acquire cyber security skills the better. First children need to be prepared to appreciate the power of the tool, and have boundaries for the proper use in their heart and mind.
So how do we set up our children to be safe with a mobile phone?
Below are some very simple guidelines, which is a lot easier to say than do. I know this because I speak from experience.
- Preparation. Know your child and what they are ready to do. Do not issue her a phone, unless you know she is prepared to use it correctly. Age appropriate use of wireless devices
- Retire the worry. If you have worries about your child throughout the day, then take a hard look at your child’s circumstances. Do you need to make some changes for day care, school, transportation that will address your concerns? If your teenager cannot be trusted to carry on daily routines without checking in with you throughout the day, then there may be an opportunity to have a conversation with your child about what is happening in his world, is he safe? Is he making good decisions? If it is your own compulsive need to be reassured that your child is safe -at any age – then it is not helping your child. It is probably making him anxious too, and signaling that you do not have confidence in him.
- Inspect what you expect. Be careful not to fall into a blind spot traps. Blind spots are those aspects of a child’s life and personality that we cannot see, because we are cannot be present every minute of every day. When we rely only upon communication with our child to be informed about what is going on, especially via mobile phone, and we do not take into account information from other sources (teachers, neighbors, other parents and peers). The risk is making decisions or drawing conclusions on partial or inaccurate information regarding the welfare of your child – including holding her accountable. Examples include where the children are hanging out or their role in an incident or a situation. If you train your child to expect that you will only listen to their account or point of view – especially if there is an incident or an issue – it creates temptation to be less than honest, because it is natural for a child to procure your sympathy. We need to consider input from others to be like “side view mirrors” which help to complete the view. Over reliance on the mobile phone with your child can limit the information about her you receive.
- Prayer. Never underestimate the power of prayer for you and your child. If you have done everything else reasonable to set your child up for success (cyber safe rules, school environment, activities, transportation, etc.), then turn your worries over to the LORD. When you pray to God about your worries for your child, the peace of Jesus can take deeper root in your own heart and mind. And your child will be blessed by your peace. The communication between you and your child can also be enhanced as your anxiety is lessened and it is safer to approach you about their concerns – face to face. For more about house rules fundamentals go to: A Parents’ Guide to Cyber Citizenship
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.