Caveat: I recognize and promote the “it takes a village” approach,. It takes a combination of school, community, and industry when it comes to online safety. This blog entry will look specifically at a subset of family, that being the parent. I do this given that I believe that parenting on this issue should be the foundational keystone that the other village stakeholders can build upon. It’s not about placing blame, it’s about identifying weaknesses and challenges that we parents can help manage through education and choice.
Over the past 7 years of investigating less than desirable outcomes that take place on-line as a parent, as a police officer and an internet/SM safety advocate, I have anecdotally noted that there are three parental key ingredients missing that are often in play when it comes to youth who are more likely to get themselves into trouble when online:
INGREDIENT #1: No Parental Communication/Participation/Involvement
Case after case that I get involved in where a youth encounters an undesirable outcome online, the first thing I almost always hear from parents is, “I had no idea he/she was doing what they were doing on their computer or cell phone.”
The foundation of nternet and social media safety needs to be online parental communication, participation, and involvement. In order to do this, however, parents often need to educate themselves about what their children are doing online. So what better way to do this than have your own child be the teacher? In my case, my son was the Jedi Master, and I was his Padawan. He was Yoda, and I was Luke Skywalker. Everything I learned about social networking, I learned from him or other youth. I have found that youth love teaching their parents if given the opportunity to do so. If, however, you are faced with a child that does not want to “show you the ropes,” then you should teach yourself; it’s not as hard as you think. One resource that I love and share with parents is www.grovo.com. This website, which is free, will show you everything you need to know about all the popular social networks that your kids are using. Two other awesome and free websites that will share everything you need to know about the most popular “apps” that youth are using include http://safesmartsocial.com and http://internet-safety.yoursphere.com.
Unfortunately, I have found parental abdication on this specific ingredient is a huge reality. Although we parents voluntarily buy our kids these digital keys to the digital highway, in my opinion there is an onus that we should also teach them how to navigate it safely. Often, parents provide these digital devices not as tools for communication, sharing, and learning, but rather as “digital pacifiers” that allow more “quiet time” for the parent when used by their overactive child. Willful blindness can no longer be tolerated specific to this ingredient, and the truth is that our children deserve no less. Knowledge, including the understanding and application of that knowledge, is power. In order to share this knowledge however, we parents need to take the time to also educate ourselves, so that we can then pass what we have learned to our children. Contrary to many parental beliefs, this is not a school issue (although schools have a part to play). This is primarily a parenting issue.
Tech, apps and social networks will continue to change and adapt, but what doesn’t change are our family values and ethics specific to desirable behaviour, both online and offline. Parental communication, participation, and involvement will help to ground these family values and ethics in an effort to help ensure that our youth make the right choices. For children, tweens, and teens, it’s all about compounding the message of online safety. Parents can and should play a key roll in this endeavor.
INGREDIENT #2: No Parental Overwatch/Overt Monitoring:
Kids will be kids, and no matter how much parental communication, participation, and involvement takes place online, some youth will still engage in undesirable behaviour. This same undesirable behaviour, however, if seen by the parent through monitoring software, can act as a teaching opportunity in regards to being a good digital citizen.
There is a movement taking place online that I like to call the “Digital Free Range Movement.” These experts believe that youth have the right to privacy, and that parents should not monitor their child’s activity online. This same movement also believes that youth should have unrestricted access to the internet and learn from their mistakes. I have often found that some of these experts are academia centric, and they tend to solely rely on academic peer-reviewed research without consideration of real-world, non-peer-reviewed empirical and anecdotal evidence and experience that differ from theirs. As one of my close friends, who is also a medical researcher stated, “Peer review does not always certify correctness of the results.” Those in the Digital Free Range Movement will often label people who differ from their beliefs as “fear mongers” which only encourages “helicopter parenting” when it comes to online safety. Tell that to the 98 students and families that I have helped as a result of bad on online outcomes!!!
In my opinion, youth have no right to privacy online; this is especially true for children, tweens, and even some teens. Nevertheless, youth can learn their privacy by showing parents good digital citizenship.
There is a difference between “covert spying” and “overt monitoring.”
Covert Spying = not telling your child that you are remotely viewing their internet activity
Overt Monitoring = everyone knows that there is monitoring software on every device that will sometimes be looked at by the parent
I do not support covert spying, but I do support overt monitoring of a youth’s activity when online.
I also do not support the use of overt monitoring in isolation, without the inclusion of online parental communication, participation, and involvement. Both ingredients need to work holistically with one another. If a youth is demonstrating good digital citizenship, then the parent can remove the overt monitoring from all devices, but continue to stay engaged via online parental involvement.
The overt monitoring software that I recommend for both desktops and laptops is http://www.spectorsoft.com/products/SpectorPro_Windows/index.asp. This software can also be downloaded on a PC or Mac.
INGREDIENT #3: Allowing Unsupervised Internet Access in the Bedroom
Most of the undesirable incidents that I have investigated, either as a police officer or as an internet/social media safety advocate, involved the youth being online, in their bedroom, without any kind of parental overwatch/monitoring or direct supervision.
From safety standpoint, my opinion is that we should not allow any kind of internet access, including the use of cell phones and gaming consoles, in the bedroom. At least until such a time as we parents are satisfied that our child has the skills to be a good digital citizen, and they have demonstrated this to us via online parental communication, participation, involvement, and overt monitoring. I could also talk about the negative health and wellness outcomes of these devices when kept in the bedroom, but I will leave that to another article.
There does come a point in time, where we as parents need to provide the freedom and privacy that our kids desire and want in the digital world. Having said this, and just like the real world, we don’t let them out of the nest of parental protection, oversight, guidance, mentoring and consequences to actions, until such time as they have demonstrated to us that they have the skills and abilities to “reasonably” do so first. As parents we have the right to parent, and sometimes that means doing things that our kids, and even some experts, aren’t going to like. Oh well…….. that’s what makes us the parent and not them.
Digital Food For Thought
AKA “The White Hatter” #thewhitehatter