The power crisis that mobile connectivity introduced into the parent-child relationship circa 2004, (when my youngest, my digital native, hit middle school with a Nextel pay as you go mobile phone he purchased with paper route money), is a call to action. This crisis is a call to action to train children to be discerning and self-governing at earlier ages. Youth today are communicating with multiple social media channels among them: Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Kik, and SnapChat – in addition to Facebook. And every year it seems a new crop of social media apps surface to attract a younger, more curious crowd as apps converge around photo and video-centric functionality. The anonymous ones, like Whisper, Secret and YikYak are especially concerning for young people, and a topic for another article.
Keep in mind most of the social media realm is truly adult swim, the minimum age to engage in social networks for this industry is 13, and many parents are allowing children to access networks at much younger ages. And there is no doubt that monitoring your child’s friend network is challenging in a dynamic environment where it is easy for kids to gain access to social media apps without parental oversight, and at the same time it is so important that you are able to impart your wisdom about with which networks your child engages, when (age-appropriate) and who they choose to allow in their own social network.
Related reading: The app that trumps all apps
Position yourself as a “chief network” advisor
You have life experience and wisdom about relationships your children don’t possess. And by the same token, children are incredibly tech savvy and can very easily be deceived into believing they do not require wisdom when they have access to knowledge via internet connectivity.
This is what I call the “smarty pants” syndrome, when children believe that all they need to know they can simply “google”.
This mindset is hostile to wisdom, so the strategy to cultivate open-mindedness is to lead with being open minded in the first place. To impart your wisdom that helps guide your child’s social network experiences, first accept that your child is also your teacher about how to she uses the technology and how her childhood is informing her. Get interested in that and just listen without judging and offering your opinion. After having validated what your child communicates to you, then offer your perspective. Odds are in your favor that when you ask your child if he wants to hear your thoughts about the topic on hand the answer will be yes.
And it is getting to the “yes, please tell me what you think or recommend” that is the act of imparting wisdom. Then we must step back and allow our children to cogitate and make their own choices so they can learn from experience how to exercise free will. This is how we train our children to become self-governing at early ages.
“Navigating the freedoms of the network requires the same mustard seed of faith that makes a free society possible: God grants to the individual intelligent life and free will, therefore power is something that cannot be taken from you, but you can easily surrender it in a world that tries to convinces us that our source of power originates from a bank account or media attention.” – Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner
For more tips about getting your child to choose wisdom, go to: Reviving Parenthood.
In this regard, when your aim is to cultivate a culture of transparency at home, where it is not about punishment and being judged but rather learning to make good decisions and live with the consequences of choices, it is easier for children to realize that your primary objective is to help them stay in control of their social network experience. It is then possible to have visibility about what is happening as collaboration between parent and child and then you can impart wisdom as your child will become interested in your perspective just as you are interested in hers. Whereas if you perceive your primary role as the parent is to be in control of your child, rather than to teach your child self control, the risk is to resort to judging and criticizing which shuts down open communication critical to impart wisdom about network contacts and other important matters on and off line.
Tips to monitor social network contacts
- Parents should have passwords to their children’s accounts, and conduct random checks for number of contacts and the affiliation with your child’s interests.
- Define with your child a policy for adding “friend contacts” to her network.
- There is not a formula for the number of friend connections in your child’s social network. Each child is different. So depending upon their activities and interests, the number of friends in their networks will vary. Does your child participate in more than one sport or extra curricular activity? Do you have a large, extended family? Depending upon your child’s circumstances, the number of connections will vary.
- Monitor the network to see if the number of connections grows erratically, without explanation. Then investigate.
- Keep in mind that monitoring the number and quality of your child’s connections in their network should be more of an ongoing conversation with your child about what is happening in their life, and less about you spying or trying to control them.
Read more about establishing cyber rites of passage for grooming kids into the social network: A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media (2013)
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, 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. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.
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Jodie Stevens, hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM The Fish offers insights and lessons learned about faith and recovery from addiction. Check out her blog, Genuine Life with Jodie Stevens, weekday mornings on the Family Morning Show.