I consider myself to be an ancient cyber mom. My first son was born in 1984 when the digital media was VHS, cassette tapes and – I still had an LP record player. So I experienced the tsunami of the digital communications sweeping into the home front in the early to mid 1990’s: personal computers, Internet connectivity, Internet browsers, mobile phones, lap tops, mobile devices. Today, technology is more about the apps than the devices, and every family member is equipped with a mobile device connected to the Internet.
By my definition, an “ancient cyber mom” was able to control Internet and media access via a computer and/or television stationed somewhere in the home. When the mobile phone hit the home front circa 2004 – that is when things really changed.
There were a few “pre-Internet era” household policies that we had in place that served us well, such as a house rule for no personal profiling without my permission, but the big challenge was my own state of heart and mind. I became anxious because I could see that I had very little control over to what my children were being exposed.
So I am going to share a few things that I learned in hindsight. The things that worked well and how I have come to appreciate through my foibles and experience what it takes to be at peace and keep kids secure in a wireless mobile world.
Let’s start with the one mission critical thing I think in hindsight served us well:
Before the Internet and social media, there was a “no profiling rule” for minors without my permission. It was our household policy that parents are guardians. The parents’ protective cover of authority always trumped privacy in our home.
The amateur spirit and parenting in the network
Contrary to popular belief, an amateur does things well as a labor of love. And so it should be when it comes to making a home and raising children. Yes? We are not getting paid for it, so it is not our profession. But it does not mean that we are not committed to learning and growing in our roles as parents to the best of our ability.
In this regard, the “no profiling rule” of our home implemented in the late 1980’s, was the product of divine inspiration that would eventually keep me reasonably positioned to stay on top of what was going on in the digital worlds of my children.
So much of what I have learned in raising two sons with cyber technology in the home happened as a result of trial and error. And I have come to appreciate Kurt Andersen’s discussion of the amateur spirit as a good thing (in his essay on the aftermath of the “too big to fail crisis” in Reset: How This Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America) His description of the amateur spirit fits being a parent in the network culture.
“This nation, after all, was created by passionate amateurs. The American spirit really is the amateur spirit…Amateurs are passionate…They embrace new challenges…” p. 66
An amateur spirit is a liberated spirit. People in bondage are not free to pursue their passion. True amateurs embrace the model of authority of the American republic: God is sovereign over the life of an individual; God grants individuals free will to worship and pursue happiness; individuals as a people surrender limited power to government so that we can have a society governed by law and order according to the will of the people.
Think about it.
There was no previous model for this government. It was an experiment of democracy, rooted in these mustard seeds of faith.
In the same way, having an amateur spirit as a parent involves mustard seeds of faith in God’s sovereignty, some humility and a desire to learn from experience with our children. The network culture is teaming with all kinds of pressure to believe things that are not true and/or do not really matter, and a constant flow of convergence of ideas and applications. Over one billion apps are available and counting. The technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace. We are all traveling in uncertain territory. Change is a certainty that inspires fear if we allow it.
Being an ancient cyber mom, I had a teenager in the home when the Internet access was available through AOL and Netscape circa 1994. Below are some of the things that were challenges for me as the press of Internet-powered, mobile-phone enabled communications eventually became an inherent part of daily life and impacted relationships at home, work and school.
Distraction-attention balance. I was a distracted mom. I had an ear piece and a mobile phone and was constantly juggling work conversations with kid conversations. I did my best to give them attention, but it would have been better had I put more structure and discipline around my work productivity.
When we are not mindful of giving our children genuine attention, even if it is simply putting aside the phone or work and looking them in the eye to answer a question or respond to a request, or hear how their day went, the signal the children receive is that they don’t really matter.
Worry and anxiety. Being fearful and anxious cripples your ability to lead. Embrace the technology with your child. I have had quite a few “freak out” moments – and I also became too tethered to my “digital native” child (born in 1990) via the mobile phone.
I found Dale Carnegie’s advice for conquering worry to be profoundly true for parenting cyber-powered children: prayer. By putting our trust in God first, and then loving our children, it is possible to retire worry, and become a more confident, hope-filled parent who is perceived as a trusted resource for their children.
“[Jesus] preached a new kind of religion – a religion that threatened to upset the world…He talked more about fear than he did about sin. The wrong kind of fear is sin – a sin against your health, a sin against the ricer, fuller, happier, courageous life that Jesus advocated.” p. 195 How to Stop Worrying and Start Living
(For more about praying moms, go to Moms In Touch International)
Avoid confusion of trust and faith. Do not allow your child to confuse trust with faith. Trust among humans is always verifiable; faith we reserve for God because He requires no proof. You as a parent have a duty to inspect what you expect. Tell your child you expect to catch him making good decisions. And then when you do acknowledge it. There is NO privacy for children at home; the children’s business is the parent’s business. Striking a balance is key so you are not hovering giving the child a signal you don’t have confidence in her ability. Admittedly I struggled with this. Mostly, I have found that if you are sincere, and temper your “inspections” with humility, children know when you are acting out of genuine concern, or if you are being fearful and trying to control them. Be honest with yourself about this, and chances are your children will appreciate your sincerity.
Technology rites of passage. We didn’t have rites of passage defined for mobile phone and internet access. It just kind of hit us like a tsunami. My youngest son had a mobile phone in the eighth grade (2004) because he purchased it with his own paper route money. Nextel pay as you go. Then I got hooked. I became dependent upon him having a phone. And then the functionality just kept converging…texting, cameras, etc. with greater risks.
For more about establishing age-appropriate boundaries for use of wireless devices go to: Age-appropriate use of wireless devices
The most important lessons learned for raising a cyber-secure child:
- Identify and have conversations about family values and setting limits for yourself. Children need to understand the value of limits, in the form of self discipline, as liberating. In our cyber-powered world, children are easily conditioned to understand “limitless” as meaning freedom; this conditioning can impact their thinking allowing them to embrace social norms that are well beneath them. (Dramatic example of the teenagers found guilty of rape in Steubenville OH. …very sad, but make no mistake, the behavior in the videos and texting surrounding this case are more common than parents want to believe).
- Have a few house rules that are consistently enforced and empower the child to take charge of their security. For more about house rules fundamentals go to : A Parent’s Guide to Cyber Citizenship
- A time designated at night to turn in mobile phones so that you can have face time and bed time.
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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