Last week The Atlantic correspondent Hanna Rosin made headlines with her cover story, The Touch-Screen Generation, that suggests the American parenting culture is a bit neurotic about how cyber technology is affecting our children.
According to Rosin when her youngest child was born, the iPad just came out and she felt like the American Academy of Pediatrics 2011 recommendation of no screen time for children under two years old was not a realistic expectation. So she did some investigation and inquiry on her own, and in this article, she shared what she learned at a children’s application developer conference about how children engage with programs delivered on television or mobile devices.
Rosin concludes that the apps designed for toddlers are not necessarily harmful as long as there is parental involvement. However, what is troubling to her is an apparent parenting “neurosis” that unfolds as cyber-technology becomes more ubiquitous we worry more and more about what it is doing to our children because we fear it will “sink them.” Rather, she advocates for a more relaxed and fearless attitude towards technology, especially with young children, which flies in the face of the AAP ideal.
The “neurosis” Rosin refers to comes from parental anxiety or fear which wants to be in control of the outcomes of our children’s lives. With fear-based thinking, there truly is a tendency to focus on the things we feel we can control. Forbidding use and putting up locks and barriers feels “safer” somehow. And unless we are able to integrate the technology into our lives with confidence that our children can become self governing in their use when properly instructed and coached, we are left with fear-based tactics that promote exposure to risks, not personal security.
In this networked environment, there are three realms of security:
- Physical (our person and belongings, home and car)
- Cyber (smart phones/social media and other applications)
- Hearts and minds (beliefs, values, emotions)
Fear sometimes keeps us hyper-focused on the physical and cyber realms of security because it makes us feel like we are in control. And yet the most important part of cyber parenting is engaging hearts and minds of children so they can be self-governing in the network culture. Below are some of the problems with fear-based parenting:
- Children hide their use of applications or cyber-tools; they will not share what they are exploring because they anticipate a fearful response from parents
- Parents loose credibility when our “fearful” edicts are clearly out of step with the reality our children experience; the disconnect from the wisdom at home is intensified by the untruth in the network about sex, drugs and friendship
- Children are encouraged to bond with other “like-minded” individuals and communities, and your input as a parent will be considered irrelevant
- Lack of parental involvement in the use of cyber apps and tools signals to children that the risks are not great enough to warrant parent attention and/or that they are not worthy of your attention
Our primary function as parents is to provide protective cover for the personal security of our children and impart wisdom. This cannot be done effectively without engaging hearts and minds. And yet, fear-based approaches cultivate a disconnect from heart and mind because it stirs anxiety and unrest.
Fear-based approaches to Cyber Parenting include:
- Over reliance on parental controls – assuming that is all that is required
- Ignoring what the child is doing on-line because it is all too much to monitor
- Freaking out when something alarming is discovered on a child’s mobile device or search history (I have been guilty of that)
- Commenting on your child’s Facebook and joining in on conversations with her friends – essentially seeking to make an emotional bond as a friend
- Micro-managing; there is no graduated plan in place to groom a child for competency and independence
This does not mean we should cave into every demand or every popular whim. We must, nevertheless, pick our battles wisely so our children can identify a meaningful connection between our guidance and their experience.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18
Fearless collaboration: Engaging hearts and minds
The over all objective for building a secure “heart and mind” security platform with children is to remain approachable. And speaking from experience, I know this is a tall order – especially in a cyber-powered, fast-paced world. Nevertheless, the two most important things you can do to be the safe-relationship for your child are:
- Bonding over house rules
- Be a good listener
Bonding over house rules
In order to shed fear, it is critical that you express and model your beliefs and values through house rules. Having clear boundaries rooted in truth and wisdom make for a peaceful heart and mind, with which children can bond. When you sit down as a family to discuss your beliefs and values, and then translate them to the house rules that center around respect for the individual and personal security, it is possible for your children to become engaged because they identify with the purpose behind the boundaries.
Conversations with law enforcement indicate that in cases where predators are extorting children for having secrets and compelling them to participate in explicit sexual acts, it is because the children believe that the risk is having their secret revealed to their parents. One police officer told me that kids are hugely relieved when the sexual exploitation finally comes to light; until their secret was exposed, they were carrying a heavy burden alone.
When you listen to your child and you are not jumping in to rescue or influence outcomes, it is then possible to ask questions of your child that will make them think for themselves about a situation or circumstance. Listening happens when you simply hear and observe:
- You are silent with open ears while driving your child and his friends to various activities and events
- The expression your child’s face after viewing a text
- The tone of the room when your child enters
- Your child’s reaction to certain assignments, people, events
If you want to offer an opinion or guidance, then suggest that you have some experience about a scenario or an event and ask them if they want to know more about your perspective. Chances are slim to none that they will not want to know. But if you force your perspective on your child, like bad tasting medicine, they will resist and they will not be able to hear you. They will be responding to “oppression”. It is a natural human reaction to being micromanaged.
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.