Cyber safety is more than parental controls. It is a state of heart and mind. It requires parents to relate genuine authority to their children, who can become self-governing in the network. The ability to discern truth from lies is critical.
In the network, a lie becomes an experience which murders the truth. The the truth is simple and brings peace, but lies are complex and stir negativity. They attack the individual and disrupt the inner peace.
Lies appeal to feelings which to a large extent make up our experiences. So it is important to teach children to recognize their feelings, and make decisions with their own minds that rely on truth. Let me give you an example from my ancient cyber mom experience.
When my youngest son was in the 5th grade (2000), before MySpace was popular, we had one Internet connection to a computer that I primarily used with a Netscape browser – located in the den. My son had set up an instant message account to talk with his cousins in Texas, and a few friends in the neighborhood. This was something that I monitored. He had a very limited list of “buddies” on his IM account.
One day, I heard the “tap-tap-on-the-door” sound notifying that someone had sent a message. To my surprise, the IM note was from someone with the handle “Love Hurts” and wanted to know did my fifth grader go to the local high school. It gave the name of the high school, so I realized this entity knew where my son lived and didn’t know my son’s true age.
Wow. Who is “Love Hurts” and why did this anonymous entity decide to try to connect with my son? ! I replied, “Who are you?” and of course, received no reply or further communication.
When my son came home from school, I asked him who “Love Hurts?” is. He too was perplexed. We asked all of his IM buddies, and no one knew or would own up to it. I assumed it was a predator, and we closed the account.
The lesson for my fifth grader was that anonymous is not cool or safe. Also, IM accounts and chat rooms expose kids to people who want to trick them. He did not want to be duped, and an IM account was not required to be friends with his “IM buddies”.
Today we know that this type of anonymity poses horrendous threats for kids who are duped into believing that the texting voice behind the picture of the cute 15-year-old boy is authentic, or that in order to be accepted you have to compromise yourself by taking prescription pills as a party experience, or sending nude photos to express devotion and affection to your romantic interest. These are all very real experiences happening today that reinforce norms that are well beneath all our children.
When we rely only on feelings to interpret life experiences, we are more easily manipulated by others; and since life is full of uncertainty and strife, we are vulnerable to insecurity which leads to anxiety, depression and hopelessness.
A recent article by TheOnLineMom about Facebook depression highlights how easily kids believe things that don’t matter or are not true:
“Researchers have also highlighted the potential dangers to teens and younger users of Facebook, who often accumulate large numbers of friends but don’t have the experience or awareness to distinguish between fact and fiction when it comes to other people’s posts.”
A child could easily be convinced by a “Love Hurts” predator after a few exchanges that they had a lot in common and that camaraderie is what children are seeking; a false comfort with a dangerous connection that involves “knowledge” of your child’s insecure state of heart and mind.
Understanding is a wellspring of life unto him that hath it: But the instruction of fools is folly. – Proverbs 16:22
Lies which are very convincing and make you insecure.
- A “friend” is simply a connection; it is rude to ignore or decline a friend request from someone you don’t know, or don’t want in your network
- It is safe to express yourself on line
- There is privacy when texting and posting images and thoughts on social media sites
- The number of connections in your social network defines your worth
- Drugs and alcohol are harmless as long as you don’t drive
In this video, a mom taught her daughter about the dangers of allowing strangers to be in your network.
How can we recognize lies and express truth in the network?
Inherent authority. First of all our children are wired for truth. Encourage them to rely upon their own gut because the lies disturb inner peace, which is their truth. Some examples of truth that empower them to recognize lies include:
- You are a child of God, born to love and be loved.
- Your life matters.
- That little voice that makes your stomach queasy should not be ignored
- Fearful and anxious thoughts are something to be acknowledged and challenged in constructive ways
- Mind over matter: You can choose your feelings; they do not have to rule your life unless you allow it
The core lessons still hold true in the network. Your little voice knows when you are being manipulated. Don’t ignore it.
Distinguish knowledge from wisdom. Secondly, children must appreciate that you cannot google everything you need to know because knowledge does not care about you and me; it is not the same thing as wisdom and being cyber safe requires wisdom.
Wisdom is the application of knowledge in a caring relationship – starting with each individual’s relationship with God, and then the parent-child bond. There must always be this context to know if we are encountering wisdom or folly.
A stranger can know information about you and your friends, on or off line, but that doesn’t mean that they are using that knowledge with your best interest at heart. A pedophile uses the issues and concerns a child posts on line to garner trust and later exploit. A commercial entity tracks the “likes” on your Facebook, or other preferences to try to convince you to purchase something that may or may not be good for you. But it doesn’t really care. It just wants to make a sale.
For example, when my oldest was perhaps four years old, I took him up and down the cereal aisle in the grocery store and pointed to all the cereals that were not nutritious food, but looked like fun, with toys inside and taste sweet so you will buy it. Then I showed him which cereals were actually nutritious. Eventually, I agreed to purchase a box of cereal that was tied to a popular cartoon, as a dessert treat, not as a meal. After two or three helpings, he grew tired of it.
Be purpose-driven. Finally, focus on the purpose of cyber tools and applications. Our desire to participate in the network must be wise. Examine it. Why do you want to be on Instagram or Tumblr? What is the purpose? And what are the pros and cons? When we step back and examine the reasons why we are pursuing something, whether it is an activity, a purchase or a relationship, examine it from “what do you expect to accomplish” point of view.
One of the things you can do to encourage this wisdom is to maintain a “family approved” application list. This is the list of applications that have been approved for use by family members (age-appropriate).
In the network kids are presented with all kinds of apps…there are over a billion and counting (Android and iOS). So which apps to you want to use and why? How is it helping you accomplish your personal objectives?
This discipline not only promotes security, but also empowers kids to think about the Internet and all the apps and gadgets as nothing more than tools which SERVE THEM …not the other way around.
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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