Who is in charge? You or the technology?

Monday, August 13th, 2012

TheFish103.9FM CyberParenting Topics Tuesday mornings.

Over the last two weeks, I met with incoming freshmen at Granite Bay High School in Granite Bay, and Oakmont High School in Roseville to talk about “how to rule your world in the net”. The objective was to get the students thinking about their own personal power to be in charge of the cyber applications, and engage in conversation with parents at home.

We opened the conversation with the idea that just as our government is given limited power by the people who are equally endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights, we must as individuals surrender limited power to the texting and social media applications.

In our republic, the limited power of government is expressed as laws of the land by which we agree to abide for the greater good. In other words, we agree to restrain our “free will” for certain matters. For example, the right to freedom of expression does not include screaming “Fire!” in a crowded theater for the harm it causes others.

In the same regard, cyber rules set limits and establish guidelines for personal use of applications that work for your best interest, not against you exposing unnecessary risks.

Photo: Casey Serin (Flickr)

Free will and restraint are a power balancing act wherein a lack of restraint can result in loss of control which looks like cyberbullying, sexting, drug and alcohol abuse, anxiety.

For me, this is the fundamental lesson in life. That liberty comes from the realization that you are in charge of your life. That doesn’t mean that you are in control of the circumstances and events, but it does mean you can decide how to respond.

The important lessons in life we can learn early.

When my son was in Kindergarten, he wouldn’t stop saying the “F” word because he wanted a definition. The teacher told him that his mother would be the one to explain that term, and gave him a choice to stop saying the word and remain with the class, or spend the rest of the day in the principal’s office.

When I picked him up that day, I found him in the principal’s office with his legs dangling off the adult sized chair, content as could be. We arrived home and we sat at the kitchen table. I asked: “Who is in charge of your behavior?”

He thought for a few seconds and replied emphatically, “You are!”

I shook my head and responded. “No, you are in charge of your behavior. I am responsible for the consequences, good and bad, for your choices. When you are old enough to know the definition, I will provide it. And because you are a good person, and you know this word is offensive, you can choose not to use it.”

At that point we were both liberated, and we never had another conversation about foul language.

In this regard, cyber safety is a matter of understanding the fundamentals, and recognizing that power is often more a matter of restraint, like a decision to not offend others with foul language; ultimately self-regulation, restraint and limits are the way to rule your world in the net.

Key Concepts:

Power  vs.  AbuseTrue power involves self restraint and self discipline not to abuse it. People who abuse others are feeling powerless, and seek to feel like they are in control by dominating others. Children who understand the difference between power and abuse will be better equipped intellectually to deal with bullies on and off-line. Cyber rules can put you and your child in the driver’s seat of cyber-powered living. Cyber-safe house rules offer a great way to bond with your teen about being in control of your own life.

Brave vs.  Risky – Both can make you feel discomfort. However, you are brave when you do the right thing even though you are afraid of displeasing your friends or being left out; while risky is ignoring your little voice warning you that it’s not right or dangerous. 

Liberty vs. “No limits” – Both can make you feel exhilarated, however liberty is the true freedom, and it has limits. Liberty involves being accountable to God, yourself, your family and friends. To be liberated the individual exercises self-discipline in accordance with his or her own values and goals. Liberated individuals are less likely to be manipulated or intimidated by others because they have set healthy boundaries.

Freedom is often misunderstood as “no limits”. For example you have a right to free speech, but it is not okay to scream “fire!” in a crowded theatre because the well being of others is compromised. Similarly, it is not free speech to try to dominate others by cyberbullying.

Private vs. Secret – A very important distinction which can be obscured in the network. Private is when you decide not to disclose information about yourself in order to be safe. Privacy involves discretion and is active boundary setting. In the social media, minors should have “private” settings for friends only. And for minors, it is important that they do not expect privacy from parents, whose duty is to ensure their safety. This is one of the top warnings of law enforcement.

A secret, on the other hand, is something that is determined cannot survive the light of day because it is not acceptable: i.e., exploitive, harmful or illegal. When a secret is kept, there is usually risky behavior involved and it is a source of tremendous anxiety.  Anything that is secret in the children’s on-line worlds is not okay. This is why transparency is one of the fundamentals for making cyber safe rules in your home.

Trust vs. Faith – Trust among people is always verifiable, while faith is reserved for God who does not require proof.  Too often children expect trust and privacy, which are dangerous – especially in their on-line worlds. When we put our faith in children to handle things without guidance, we leave them vulnerable to risky circumstances beyond their ability to respond with confidence.

This independence they seek is something that develops over time, in age-appropriate ways, in accordance with your house rules.

Forgive  vs.  Excuse – Forgiveness is a type of liberty – it is the act of letting go of the offense when someone has hurt you. It does not mean you excuse it; it means that you do not allow yourself to become emotionally bonded to the offense.

Forgiveness is empowerment.

The decision to forgive prevents you from becoming the victim.

To make excuses for offensive behavior is to somehow justify why bad behavior happened and if unchecked can wind up “enabling”, by condoning or reinforcing poor conduct.  In one cyberbullying case that led to the suicide of Phoebe Prince South Hadley, Mass., one mother excused her daughter’s participation in the harassment by saying “she was only calling her names.”

Often excusing is confused with forgiveness. In our children’s on-line worlds, forgiveness is important because there will undoubtedly be things said that are unkind, and holding on to hurt that keeps us from moving on and can wind up defining and limiting us. It is possible to forgive and hold others accountable for their bad behavior. The two are not mutually exclusive. It is the state of your heart and mind that makes all the difference.

Cyber rules produced by 9th graders after discussing key concepts:

  • Be a role model; be a leader, not a follower
  • Don’t “friend” people you really don’t know
  • Don’t post comments that you later regret sending
  • Tell your friends not to give out your personal information
  • Don’t give out your phone number to just anybody
  • Don’t listen to what people you don’t know have to say
  • If you every have an issue go to someone older you trust; don’t keep it to yourself.
  • Don’t listen to rumors or lies about you because only you know the truth about yourself.
  • Don’t ever send pictures of yourself without your clothes via text message, Facebook, etc.
  • Never give your password to anyone
  • Don’t search everything on the Internet; use Google wisely
  • If you play a game on line, don’t talk to anyone unless you know them.
  • Only text people you know; not mutual friends of friends
  • Don’t share personal information on the Internet
  • Don’t make fun of people if you don’t want to be made fun of.
  • Don’t give your address to people on the Internet
  • Play games that are rated E or T
  • Put security software on the computer
  • Make sure you know the website you are playing games on
  • People are not always who they appear to be
  • Shut down your phones at night
  • Avoid texting while talking with someone or doing homework

Support your child in their social network, go to: A Parents’ Guide to Cyber Citizenship and check out House Rules Fundamentals.

Fundamentals for House Rules and a Cyber Secure Home

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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna (jullien@surewest.net) and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.