Social media introduces another dimension of freedom and risk for children that require parental guidance, yet the perception is that cyber communications are private. Children can easily be offended when parents become involved. And this is a problem because if the child is offended, he or she can choose to create alternative social media profiles in order to keep their on-line life a secret from you.
In this regard, a couple of recent headlines feature two radically different approaches that emerge as conventional wisdom to “be in control” of your child, or “grant your child privacy”. In an article by Hollywood.com, actress Julianne Moore is reportedly “stalking” her children on their social media sites, declaring that teenagers do not get to have privacy. The report intimates that she is “on top of it” and confident.
By the same token, another headline discourages parents from “stalking” their children in their on-line world. Featuring a conversation with a Microsoft R&D expert, NYU instructor on new media culture, and a new mom by the way, Danah Boyd, discourages parents from reading their children’s cyber communications.
There is some truth in both approaches, but the reality is that the open communication essential to keeping children cyber-safe is found in the character of a trustworthy individual on the part of both the parent and the child. This trustworthiness is found in 1 Corthinians 13:4-7, that is the nature of God (kind, patient, never jealous, does not boast, endures all things, generous, etc.); this collection of features describes the trustworthiness we seek in a spouse, a parent, a child, a boss, a co-worker, a classmate, a political leader and, yes, in a sovereign deity.
So when these values of a trustworthy character are stressed in your home, it is possible to form a relationship with your child wherein you are received as a trusted resource monitoring what is going on in your child’s life because you have the duty of protective cover for their personal security until the age of majority.
To avoid becoming a stalker or, just as bad, abdicate your responsibility as a guardian, become a trusted resource to help your child make sure he does not give up too much personal power to secret, risky agendas in the social network.
Tips for parents to be the trusted resource:
- Explain to your child that “private” means you keep your personal business from “the world” because not everyone is trustworthy. Anything that is secret harbors risk and is not a good thing for them or the others involved. Also, parents keep in mind while you do not grant your child privacy, you must certainly respect it by: a) refraining from commentary on the things you see and disagree with – be in the ‘lurk’ only mode and be silent; and b) do not share personal information without their permission.
- Check your own motivation. What is your goal? To control your child, or help your child develop self control? The most important thing you can do to keep your child safe is become a good listener and withhold expressing judgment about what other kids are doing and saying on line.
- Impart wisdom by asking your child questions about a situation or a communication. Get them thinking for themselves about the right thing to do and how to make a course correction. The temptation of parents is to keep telling our children what to do, worrying and criticizing, rather than encouraging them to think for themselves and give them the space and time to respond.
When monitoring your child’s cyber communications becomes an opportunity to catch her doing things right and impart wisdom (without judging) when he strays, then you are essentially on the same page about personal security in the cyber realm and there can be a good measure of peace.
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. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.