Why cyber parenting is not really about the technology

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Photo: Tammy McGary (Flickr)

This evening the Parents Who Rock meet up at Mimi’s Café in Roseville focused on the topic “What it means to be a parent in a cyber powered world.” Below is a summary of the presentation made by Joanna.

Cyber parenting is a paradox. On the one hand, the technology of smart wireless devices and apps has disrupted home life and family relationships. The power of one-to-many communications seduces us away from face-to-face interaction. And it is easy for children to believe that parents have less authority because WWW connectivity affords access to unlimited “knowledge” and people.

No doubt technology is definitely a game changer for parenting and family life.

On the other hand, the fundamentals of cyber parenting have less to do with technology and more to do with hearts and minds. So let us consider that there are three realms of security in our modern world.

  • Physical (locking doors and alarms; chaperoning events; supervising young children, child proofing homes, etc.)
  • Cyber (parental controls; Internet security software)
  • Hearts and Minds (God’s love expressed as boundaries that protect personal liberty and security)

It is common to hyper focus on the physical and cyber realms because we feel like we have more control. It involves our “hands on” engagement; it feels more powerful. And yet, as most seasoned cyber parents have discovered, parental controls are easily overcome and alarms and locks only last for a short while. As our children grow up they require security measures that put them in charge; that empower them to think like the quarterback on and off line.


This crisis of the parent-child relationship and family life is expressed in a number of ways. A few fundamentals are worth examining because there is much confusion which enables a lie to become an experience in the network that murders the truth.

Confusion between trust and 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.

Secrets are kept as a form of privacy. 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.

Risky is perceived as brave or gutsy. 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.

Forgiveness is perceived as excusing, or not holding individuals accountable. Forgiveness is 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. 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.


This crisis of the “disconnect” from truth (as outlined above), is also an opportunity to express authoritative boundaries that strengthen the parent-child bond, especially for teenagers.

The first decade of a child’s life is about setting the boundaries for what is safe and legal. It is a matter of learning how to be a citizen at home and in the community that respects self and others, on and off line. So the access to cyber tools is more closely supervised, along with parental controls.

See: Age appropriate use of wireless devices.

The second decade is about giving your child a wider birth to make decisions and experience the consequences of those decisions. Monitoring of cyber technology is a random process of inspecting what you expect. The message you give your child is, “I expect to find you making good decisions.” The more they demonstrate good decision making, the more independence they receive – knowing that you are spot checking to see how your house rules and values are being honored.

Rules and relationship bonding

Without relationship, rules are lifeless and can become a symbol of oppression. Actually, the process of developing and maintaining house rules can be a bonding process, when your children are engaged as “learning executives”.

For many parents, keeping up with the technology is difficult. And the kids are so savvy, and the new apps for social network just keep coming. Most of them now are photo-centric. It is a very seductive and dynamic culture. So it is imperative that parents take a sincere interest in who their child is and what apps they are using, and why. At the same time, be open to learning about the technology they are using in order to keep your hand on the pulse of what is happening in their world.

Most importantly, be clear about your beliefs and values and how they govern your life and home. It is important that your children can experience the culture of your home as a way of living; a way of thinking like the quarterback who is in charge, rather than feeling like a victim of oppression at home and in the network.  When our children are empowered by boundary-setting as a form of self-governance, they can be secure on and off line.

See parent training: Fresh Start – Family Culture Builder for Household Executives (3 hour crash course)


Joanna Jullien “Parental authority cannot be taken. It can only be lost when we surrender it.” Photo by: Christi Benz

Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. A mom of two grown sons, 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, 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, comes out in fall of 2013. To receive an announcement, sign up to receive Banana Moments updates. You can reach Joanna at Jullien@surewest.net.



Peggy Lee
Photo: Courtesy

Peggy Harper Lee (co-organizer of Parents Who Rock Meet Up) is the author of “Spoiled: Fresh Ideas for Parenting Your Entitled Child—at Any Age!” She is a mother of four, ages 4 to twenty nine, and the CEO of Spoiled, providing keynote addresses and consulting for leaders (at home or at work) to achieve healing that stops the blame game, insight that shifts them from reactive to proactive, and the confidence to give themselves permission to take charge and use authority wisely. You can reach Peggy Lee.





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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.