I consider myself a vigilant parent. I have to be considering that just about everything my kids do is in some way intertwined with technology – which let me just say that I hate with a passion. Gone are the days of just reading a book, or drawing, or playing outside and using one’s imagination (despite my best efforts to steer them in this direction). So much of today’s generation is so highly influenced and impacted by smart phones, online gaming, and various apps that I feel as if we’re raising a bunch of robots instead of human beings. Even the schools have shifted their focus, utilizing online communication methods that include but are not limited to issuing all students their own email accounts and posting homework assignments on online forums. Our school has even gone so far as to encourage the use of smart phones in the classroom (give me a break) as a means of accessing educational information. To that I call “bulls**. Do you know how many Instagram pics I see posted of kids while they are in school? Lets just say its enough to make me wonder how much learning is actually taking place.
So with this push to be so technologically advanced, I have had to up my parental “A” game. While my kids do have smart phones their usage comes with strict conditions. They also have and a computer which also has its usage rules. They DO NOT have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat accounts which many of their friends have. And until this school year they didn’t even have email accounts; that was until the school issued each student their own email addresses (something I am not really a proponent of and wish I was given a say in).
So what’s a parent to do when all this technology so readily available? Well, I routinely check my kid’s text messages to make sure that the content they are texting is appropriate. My kids know to expect this and know that if I find something that is questionable or inappropriate I am going to ask them about it and if necessary offer up the appropriate discipline. I also check the websites that they visit for all of the same reasons and with the same consequences. Seems adequate right – NOPE – not even close. It seems that the “A” game I thought I had brought to the parental table was more of a C – game. Why you ask? Well it seems that despite my best efforts, there were and are many facets of the online scene that I underestimated in my children. Did they intentional set out to mislead me – maybe, maybe not. Part of me believes that innocently enough they themselves were mislead while the other part of me knows that I didn’t give them enough credit for their online smarts.
So again I ask, what’s a parent to do?
Ask questions, questions answers, be involved, and be present in all that your kids do technologically. Set limits on their online time, no matter if it’s texting, gaming, chatting, or accessing the web. If your gonna read through texts don’t assume that that what your reading is all that there was to read. Just recently as I was reading through my older sons text messages I realized that what I was reading not only didn’t make sense, but was actually choppy bits of various text conversations occurring at multiple times. When I questioned my son about this I learned that he’d actually deleted some of his conversations because he didn’t want me to know that he’d been texting this girl with whom I had forbidden him to text due in part to how nasty she’d treated him both in person and online. This brings us to another point, block numbers you don’t want your kids to have access to. There is no rule that says your child needs to be accessible to everyone. Utilize parental controls and block those numbers that your child doesn’t need to be associating with.
Read the content of your kids texts and don’t be afraid to intervene. On more than one occasion I have stepped in as the parent to ask friends of my kids to please watch what it is that they are saying as I don’t appreciate the content of their texts. Usually this elicits an apology and puts an end to the petty nonsense that kids partake in. Once it even warranted me receiving a phone call from another parent and we discussed the matter so as to resolve it. Kudos to them for also reading their child’s text messages.
Read the content of your kids texts and don’t be afraid to call out a number you don’t recognize and then if necessary – block it. My older son was getting hassled by a few numbers that I didn’t recognize so I stepped in to inquire who it was that was texting his number. I got some smart ass response from one of the numbers because the person texting thought I was my son – to which I revealed that I was the parent who owned the phone and that if he was going to keep harassing my son I would take things to the next level. The texts stopped but for extra measure I blocked the number.
Don’t assume that text messaging only take place on your kids phones. With all of the online gaming that exists there are many chat opportunities within games in which players can communicate with one another. What seems innocent enough with these games can quickly turn ugly. My older son was playing one such game and deep in conversation with some of the other players when the conversation took an ominous turn. One of the other players started threatening my son. That was bad enough but turned worse when the player told my son he knew where he lived (and was able to state our address) and that he was going to come after him. Now I don’t know enough about this particular game or how this chat room in the game works to know how this player was able to identify my son through his screen character, but it brings to light a whole new level of online bullying and a danger than many parents may not be fully aware of. The long and the short this experience was that I was finally able to identify who it was that was threatening my son and followed it up through the appropriate channels. My boys have also been restricted on playing any online games which have chat rooms for the very reason that you just never know who is taking to your kids.
And finally, know the websites your kids are surfing, use parental controls on those websites you don’t want your kids accessing, and give your kids credit for being a hell of a lot smarter when it comes to technology than you wish they were. Do not underestimate what it is they know or how it is they can do something because you will set yourself up for a very big shock and quite possibly some very big trouble. Case in point, thanks in part to a hair-brained scheme and some peer pressure from a less than stellar friend, that lovely email address that the school issued him, and a few mistruths as to his age, my eldest son was able to create an Ebay account and was actually trying to bid on toys. It was his father and step-mom who actually got wind of what was going on and intervened before any major damage was done. Now I don’t want to sound naive, but never in a million years would I have given my son the credit to have pulled this off. Underestimating my son was my greatest error and thankfully a great eye-opener to all the additional things out there that I need to be vigilant of.
Vigilance, open and honest communication with your kids, and being involved are so key in these technological times to keeping them safe and protected. With all that is out there, there is never a moment we can be lax, let our guard down, or be complacent in our parental duties. Our children are smart, resourceful and without fear as to truly understanding the dangers that they may encounter. We as parents must be smarter, more resourceful and more vested than ever to ensure that our children remain safe, protected and act responsibly in a world that is growing faster than we can often keep up with.