The most important lessons about citizenship kids learn first at home. If we are critical and not supportive of one another as parents then how can we expect our own children to be considerate of one another on or off line? At the end of the day, forgiveness and individual accountability are the formula for a peaceful society. (Thank you for demonstrating this Jesus). And we do not have peace in our society when we are judging others and excusing ourselves. If we are seeking control of others, but not leading with self-control, we are disturbing the peace.
May is California Digital Citizenship month and the schools are featuring lessons about digital citizenship. Teachers are working digital citizenship curriculum into their lessons, and the students are learning about things like intellectual property and plagiarism, cyberbullying, digital footprints and on-line privacy.
This topic of cyber citizenship is equally important for modern parenting.
Whatever lessons your children learn by witnessing how we treat other parents and their children when there is conflict, your child will employ with gusto off and on line. So for digital citizenship month, this is to encourage parents to promote good citizenship at home as children are learning about digital citizenship in the classroom.
To this point, I came across an excellent example over the weekend, about a blogger mom who shared her experience with the sit com Big Bang Theory exposing her young child to sexual content. Jennifer Rodriguez, children’s book author and founder of Salice Family Services in Carmichael, was astonished at the bully comments attached to the article.
“So many parents are judging her and calling her parenting skills into question because she did not discover the problem right away,” Rodriguez said. “It is my opinion that this mother is already feeling guilty about not catching the inappropriate comments sooner… Parents WILL make mistakes, and we are ALLOWED to make mistakes. That is how we learn to be better parents. It also teaches our kids that it is ok if they make a mistake, too. It’s not the end of the world; they can fix their mistake and move on.”
(Read the mom blog article about Big Bang Theory.)
So let’s examine some of the “judgy” parent traps and what to do about it.
“Judgy” parent traps that promote poor digital citizenship
One of the problems I have observed about the bully culture is that there is a focus on how other people offend “me” (insecure) and a harboring of expectation that we are entitled to our own brand of justice for the offenses of others. Bullies do view themselves as victims, thereby justifying their harassment or intimidation.
In this regard, the most important thing we can teach our children is that self-control is the best way to 1) learn and 2) contribute to your classroom, community and society.
Below are some of the traps of being the “judgy parent”, which teaches the kids that it is okay to be critical and dismissive of someone you disagree with or with whom you are in conflict, the unintended consequences and what to do about it.
Trap 1: Rescuing.
Rescuing your child from conflict and seeking your brand of justice when your child is feeling stress or discomfort (including the grades she receives from her least favorite teacher or being excluded from a peer group).
Unintended consequence: Your child may begin to adopt a victim mentality that the world must conform to him because he is not capable of resiliency. And so in their on-line world, the chance is great that the child will interpret your behavior as a green light to be expressing his resentment through texting or comments on social media, further disturbing the peace in him and with others.
Reparation tip: Start by listening to your child the next time she has a bad experience, and repeat what you heard her say. Then ask her questions to get her thinking more objectively about the circumstances and the other points of view. Help her to think about what is happening more calmly, and then consider the options she has to make things better on her own.
Caveat: Chronic abuse situations are a different matter. If you find you or your child in a situation where there is physical or emotional abuse on a regular basis, and ganging up on one individual (and you know it when you or your child are under attack), and your attempts to resolve it go unheeded, then consult an excellent resource: B.R.A.V.E. Society dedicated to peer abuse awareness, resolution and prevention.
Trap 2: Fixing Blame.
Blaming others for conflict and accepting your child’s version of the story as if it were gospel is a trap that I have experienced in my own parenting journey and as a volunteer at my son’s schools. The mobile phone makes us more susceptible to believing what our children tell us about what is happening. Most people have experienced this to some degree or another. There have been few times when I have really struggled to restrain the “mama bear” in me when I perceived that a child of mine was in danger or being mistreated. And I have witnessed a number of “mama bear” reactions to a child’s version of what happened. It is a sad, destructive experience for the children who learned the wrong lesson and experienced broken relationships among their peers and the adults.
Unintended consequence: Again, the children interpret your reaction as a green light to keep going along the “blame game” path. There is no reflection, no individual accountability about her own role in the conflict, or the issues she is experiencing with peers. In a very real sense, this can be disabling because this strategy (believe only what the child says) expresses a victim mentality. The presumption is that the child can a) do no wrong, which is folly or b) cannot be expected to stand corrected in dealing with her issues involving other people.
Reparation tip: When your child is in distress, avoid looking for someone to blame. Rather look for an opportunity to help your child learn about working through difficult situations with other people. Assume good intent on the part of other people involved, and express the concern from your point of view. Try not to declare your version of the situation as the only truth. Give the other people involved an opportunity to express their point of view. There may need to be boundary setting involved. Not every relationship is safe. If your child is encountering a situation with peers that does not seem trustworthy, encourage your child to seek other opportunities to make new friends. This is a good time to discuss what it means to be a good friend to others, which will make it easier for her to attract other friends and possibly help repair a relationship out of conflict.
Trap 3: Express a criticizing heart.
Openly criticizing (in front of your children) the standards of other parents whether they are higher or lower than your own. For example, some parents enforce media entertainment ratings (R,NC17, T, E) and others do not. Most parents enforce a seat belt for every individual in the car, a few do not.
Unintended consequence: So the lesson our children learn is that rather that reaching out to the individuals with different standards to work out a compromise or a collaborative solution, the strategy is to criticize and disrespect others who differ from you.
Reparation tip: This is where parents need to collaborate about the transfer of custodial responsibility. If your child is attending a party that involves transportation to a destination, when you call to verify if there are enough seat belts for every child, be prepared to offer to drive if there are not. This way if it turns out there are not enough seatbelts, you can offer support and not criticism. If the other parent’s standards for entertainment are stricter, honor them when their child is in your care. When you honor the higher standards, nobody looses and the children learn respect and tolerance for the interests of others that are different from your own. When you dismiss or criticize the higher standards of another parent, the lesson the children learn is that it is okay to be offended and disregard the different boundaries of others.
Trap 4: Gossip.
Gossiping about other parents and their children in front of your children.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29
Unintended consequences: Gossip is not a good thing because it does not engage the people being talked about in ways that are edifying. It is a form of disturbing the peace. Being honest, I am not innocent of ever gossiping, but I have come to have a healthy respect for the value of checking it for the sake of children. The signal that gives kids is that those parents who are the object of gossip are not to be respected. When our children have information about other adults that is compromising, or receive signals from you that it is okay to talk about them, it can inspire children to stir the pot spreading the juicy details of the gossip overheard to their peers. With texting the gossip can easily turn into cyber bullying for the children of the parents targeted in the gossip at home.
Reparation tip: Refrain from talking about the circumstances, issues, observations, stories or concerns about other parents in front of your children. If you need to vent frustration about a situation with another parent, do it privately. And if another parent is obviously behaving badly, it is sufficient to acknowledge to your child that the way the parent is behaving is not okay. Enough said. The less you dwell on the problem parent, and the more proactive you are in reaching out to engage the right people to resolve the problem, the more secure your child will feel, and therefore be less vulnerable to the bully mentality which stirs anxiety and disturbs the peace.
For resources about dealing with bully situations, go to: B.R.A.V.E. Society
Check out a parent support group in Roseville:
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator 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.