by: Aaron Shaner, LAMFT, LAPC
Every parent wants to hear their adult children say that the influence mom or dad had in their child’s life made a difference. Even for kids who don’t remember to say thank you, being appreciative for the way we’re raised is the farthest thing from everyone’s mind while growing up. In my house, there was more bickering around social boundaries than just about any other issue. Being a kid raised in the 1990s, my social life had advantages over previous generations. New fangled inventions like the internet, pagers, instant messaging and later on cell phones, made it easier to connect with friends than previous generations.
If what I had growing up to aid in social connection was considered a 100-percent advantage over previous generations, the resources today’s teens have are off the chart. Social networking is now the number one activity for most teenagers, and if not texting or checking each other’s status updates, they are probably watching videos online, playing an online video game or snapping a selfie in front of the mirror this very moment.
As parents, it’s one thing to set limits on where your child goes and who they spend time with; it’s a whole different ball game to monitor all of the information in the entire world as it comes into your home on your child’s computer, tablet or smart phone. While I was arguing with my parents over Blockbuster rentals, todays Mom’s and Dad’s are fighting a different battle altogether.
After spending the last eight years on the front lines of this battle, some times arguing on both sides, I am confident that when digital media boundaries are done well, parents can be confident in their child’s abilities to make good decisions in cyberspace.
Start Early and Talk Often
Growing up outside of Chicago, the political jab, “vote early and vote often” was a remark I heard frequently. However, when applied to parenting there is a vital truth contained in it. Kids are never too young for you to start talking with them about how they interact with their world. It’s also never to late to start. From my experience the number one factor in lack of social media boundaries is the lack of parent-child communication on the subject. When parents don’t have a habit of talking with their kids about tough topics, kids won’t think to avoid compromising situations.
Be In The Know
Invest time in understanding how the technology your children are using works. What kind of access do they have? Do this device come with parental controls? Will it allow your child to purchase things without your knowledge or consent? Why are teens drawn to this particular technology? I’ve even known parents who created their own social media accounts and required their kids to link accounts with them in order to monitor their child’s activities.
Protect Your Child’s Online Presence
Sites like Google, offer services that can email you when your child’s name/likeness shows up online somewhere. Review guidelines, talk about smart online behaviors, and teach your children to be discerning about what information to keep private and what information to make public. Even friends and acquaintances can accidentally share personal information online that you want kept private about your child.
Devices like Amazon’s Kindle Fire now come equipped with time controlled use apps. Take advantage of these ways to monitor usage so that your kids can enjoy technology and not get caught up using it for hours at a time. Consider asking your teenage children to turn in their phones at night so that they can do home work and sleep. Recent studies have shown teenagers are loosing sleep by staying up all night, when parents can’t monitor their use of this technology, texting with their friends.
Most Importantly: Follow Through
As in sports, consistent technique often brings success over brute strength. Talk about setting boundaries with your family, discuss the positives and negatives of social media, and challenge your older kids to think critically about potential consequences of misuse. Once you’ve made guidelines clear, FOLLOW THROUGH. Parenting research shows that regardless of what rules are set, parents who are more consistent in their rules contribute to more healthy children than parents who bounce back and forth between restraint and free reign.
Taking time to think through these topics with your family can help raise children who learn good boundaries for themselves that protect them and allow them to take advantage of all that technology has to offer.
Submitted by Aaron Shaner, Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Associate Professional Counselor of The Rapha House – A Counseling Ministry of ChristChurch Presbyterian of Dalton