By the time your teen is of age to possess and use a smart phone, the risks are great, among them are cyberbullying, sexual exploitation and drugs and alcohol, depression, and anxiety. There are a lot of parental control apps that feature visibility of everything that your child is doing on line, and the temptation to spy is great when you lack the confidence in your child’s God-given ability to be an independent thinker and seek wise counsel when confronted with experiences that disturb their peace, or choices that may take them outside the boundaries of your family values.
When does your guidance devolve into spying?
Spying happens when you are trying to remain undetected; when you are trying to deceive your child into believing that you will not be monitoring their communications. A recent news headline in Australia featured protests against parental control apps that enable parents to spy on their teen’s cyber communications. The recommendation is to stop spying and do this instead: 1) get educated about social networks, and 2) communicate the cyber risks. Good advice. Otherwise your guidance may be perceived as meddling and disrespectful.
However, if your teen is aware that you have downloaded an app to have visibility of their communications, and your teen is comfortable that this is so you can provide support and guidance for their personal security, then it is not spying – it is collaboration.
That said, it is more important to examine your motive. Why do you feel you need to have access to all of your teen’s cyber communications? By the time your child hits the teen years, you must be prepared to treat them as emerging executives steering their own ships, and you are the coach. So if you feel compelled to spy on your teen, consider that you may be dealing with fear-based thoughts that act like malware for the parent heart and mind:
Worrying is not the same thing as caring. It is fear-based thinking and negative goal setting. It is not love. (1John 4:18).
Discipline is about training the heart and mind to focus on the things that empower us to pursue our spiritual imperative – to connect with truth, that is love, and who is God. Consequences can be both rewarding and punishing and are meant to be instructive and inspire lessons that are hopeful about our power to learn from the experiences that are punishing.
Be careful. Your opinion and wisdom are not the same thing. Your opinion is just that: an opinion that belongs to you. Wisdom, on the other hand, comes from the heart of God and is tailored for the individual. (James 1:5)
Tips for parents
Consider the source of your confidence. Examine your own belief in your child’s God-given ability to learn how to use her intelligence and free will wisely. Treat cyber safety as if it were a civics lesson that is rooted in the mustard seed of faith that makes a free society possible: one sovereign Deity grants individuals intelligent life and free will and that is power that cannot be taken, but can easily be surrendered. This is true for your children. Bring your worries and concerns to the foot of the Cross, and declare that your relationship with your child is going to be governed by the forgiveness and grace that comes from choosing to believe God’s promises for the faithful to be free from undue influences, and stand corrected from the consequences of poor choices.
Clarify private and secret. Establish that as the guardian of their personal security and primary teacher for life, you will respect your minor child’s privacy, but you will not grant it – especially when it comes to on-line communications. Private is something personal that you keep from the world because not everybody is trustworthy, while secrets harbor risk and shame (cyberbullying, drugs, and sexual exploitation). By the same token, parents must respect their child’s privacy by not discussing their personal information without permission, and refrain from commenting on everything they see. The temptation to micro-manage your child’s communication is great if your motivation is to advance your personal agenda, and is not rooted in helping them to be secure by simply imparting wisdom through instructive conversation about experiences, choices and consequences.
Be the trusted resource. It is important to clarify trust, (which is verifiable among people), and faith, (which is reserved for God who requires no proof). Parents and children can easily believe that trust means that parents believe their children do not require oversight and guidance; that when parents provide custodial oversight over cyber communications that it is a lack of trust in the child. To the contrary, as the primary educator for life, it is important that the parent establish himself or herself as the primary trusted resource, as wise counsel for all matters impacting personal security. And so in the grooming of children for the social network, parents must be able to monitor communications and engage children in conversations about things that are potential problems or threats, such as conversations with strangers or bullying. So when you “inspect what you expect” by doing random checks of cyber communications you are telling your child that you expect for the most part they are making good decisions, and that there may be a need from time to time for parental guidance. As long as your motive is to help your child learn how not to give up too much power to the drug, the bully or the social network, then it this is a conversation that is empowering for the child.
To learn more about creating a family culture characterized by open communication and individual resilience, go to: Fresh Start.
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Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is 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.
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Jodie Stevens, hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM The Fish offers insights and lessons learned about faith and spiritual resilience. Check out her blog, Genuine Life with Jodie Stevens, weekday mornings on the Family Morning Show.