Educators and law enforcement will tell you from what they witness in the field two trends that should give parents pause. One, the mobile phones are issued at earlier and earlier ages, and two, the children are exposed to or engaged in inappropriate and risky communications of which parents are simply not aware.
The three most common inappropriate things parents will find on their children’s mobile devices are:
- Inappropriate images and videos (sexting, porn, violence, connections with strangers)
Perhaps you recall reading William Golding’s Lord of the Flies in high school; a story about a group of British pubescent and adolescent boys who survive a plane crash and are stranded on a desert island. They were alone long enough to experience the fear and savagery that leads to brutal and cruel treatment to one another and eventually murder. They had met the enemy and it was they, as the bully culture took over the civility and reason in their hearts and minds. And eventually Piggy, the bully victim, was killed before help arrived as one boy, Ralph, who remained the lone voice of compassion, was being chased down by the group to be slaughtered.
And such is human nature. Peace and civility requires us to put our hearts and minds in command of the primal impulses rooted in the fight or flight reflex of the brain. Hence the role of the parent in every aspect of our children’s lives is so critical.
And yet in their cyber-powered communities children with their mobile devices can feel anonymous and untouchable (as if on a deserted island) because there is so much unchecked autonomy with powerful one-to-many communications capacity. There is a tendency to let it all hang out as inhibitions can be very relaxed, and it is easy to believe there are no limits as they respond to the nefarious signals from their network (could be a bully or they perceive someone to be a threat, a predator, or being convinced they need to do something inappropriate or demeaning in order to be accepted).
From sending and sharing inappropriate photos, to exchanging hostile words or revealing a confidence of a trusted peer in order to punish, get revenge or secure an upper hand, all of this makes for a bully culture that attacks the individual. And yet it is intensely personal when your child is the target.
The problem is not the technology. The problem is that we as a society have not had any experience socializing our children with the cyber-powered communications. In fact the technology affords parents an outstanding opportunity to strengthen their bond with their child by becoming the trusted resource that teaches them how to be a secure, confident “power player” in the social network.
What parents can do
- First, do not grant your child privacy in the cyber realm. Conduct regular random checks so you can spot inappropriate or risky things. Be clear about your role as the guardian. You respect your child’s privacy by not sharing personal information without their permission, but you do not grant privacy.
- Secondly, don’t freak out. As soon as you freak out about seeing something inappropriate or alarming, your child will be less inclined to deal with your genuine concern for safety. What they learn is that the crime is to get caught and then you are encouraging secrets. So make sure you are not judging them. Say to yourself: “I have a magnificent son (or daughter).” And repeat it several times before you address your child. Make sure you are calm because you are in a position to really lead. This “crisis” is a huge opportunity to bond in Truth.
- Third, ask your child to describe what is happened that resulted in the inappropriate material. You want them to review with you the circumstances which contributed to their poor decision or situation. Do not interrupt. Do not offer opinions or judgments. Just listen.
- Fourth, then ask your child to think about what happened and how they feel about it? Give them time to think about it. And then ask them how they will handle it differently in the future, and/or make amends to those who might have been hurt or offended.
The aim of your engagement is to help your child recognize your role in their cyber realm as a trusted resource.
For more about introducing your child to technology for personal use, go to: A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media. (Available for Kindle, Nook and iPad).
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She 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, Tuesdays. Her next book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media will be released in the fall 2013.
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