Cyber Safety for Families with Joanna and Jodie on The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9 FM The Fish

Teens today are digital natives (they cannot imagine the world without the internet), and they do not necessarily perceive the distinction between virtual and physical reality.

Texting is their main artery of communication.

On the one hand, this technology makes it easy to keep secrets which harbor risks including, bullying, sexting, and addictions including internet porn, and drug and alcohol abuse. And yet for the most part, teens are making good decisions while engaged in their virtual communities.

As one anonymous middle school principal noted, holding up the device to an audience of parents, “This is what separates your childhood from your child’s childhood.” In this regard, it is wise for the modern parent to consider that their teen’s childhood and teenagehood is informing them radically differently than that of their own.

To that end, “digital sympathy” is the capacity to understand that cyber technology is integral to the life experience of modern teens who are digital natives. This is the reality our children are experiencing and it must be respected if parents seek to engage them to foster open communication and impart wisdom. It matters to your teen because they are seeking to connect with people in their life, using the technology. It is how they “get got”, or feel loved. If there is no appreciation for how important teens perceive their cyber social network, there is a risk of disconnects when hinder communication and can give rise to misunderstandings, and perceived separation.

So in order to build trust (i.e., meet your teen where he or she is at), every modern parent needs to be mindful about treating the use of technology with respect to how your child’s social as well as academic and entertainment needs are being met. Below are some examples of how digital sympathy can be leveraged to instill discipline and strengthen the trust bond with your teen.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19)

Get educated. Teens are using multiple social media apps. They may have a Facebook account for family and some friends, and SnapChat as well as Twitter and Instagram. So it is important to know how to provide some guidance to your teen, and be open to helping them choose the social media apps that will help make their life better, not worse. Take some time to learn about the technology teens are using. What is really popular and why? In addition to listening to your own child, talk with folks at the mobile phone stores, and learn what you can about the pros and cons of devices and apps. Set up news alerts, and check out resources like Common Sense Media that offers a list of social media apps where teens are headed after Facebook.

Common Sense Media – Social Media Apps beyond facebook

When you understand the nature of the social media apps that are popular and the risks they pose, it is possible to have informative conversations with your teen to guide them to apps that will not create problems for them and to keep your child talking with  you about what is happening in their on-line world so you can impart wisdom.

Help your child become a responsible user. Establish protocols for when texting and appropriate and when it is not. For example, you might notify your child via text to coordinate and/or confirm transportation plans, while conflicts are to be discussed in person. Have an agreement that conflicts or any other issues that involve hurt feelings or emotions will be handled in person.

And establish house rules that that promote open dialogue about what is going on and reflect your expectation that your teen has the ability to be trusted to use the technology responsibly. (To learn more go to Fresh Start). The aim of your house rules is to teach your child how not to give up their power to the device/app, bully or drug. When your intent is truly to help your child learn to be in control of himself, learning digital discipline can be a very empowering conversation and experience for your teen.

Get interested in what interests your child. Sit down with your child and have them show you what they are doing with devices and apps that bring enjoyment and/or efficiency. If you have a child who loves to play video games, become acquainted with the game and have him show you how to play. Spend time being present in their digital moments.


About:  We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. To that end, ten percent of all proceeds are donated to prison ministries. Your donations are greatly appreciated. (Donations are payable to Banana Moments Foundation).

Photo by: Christi Benz

Photo by: Christi Benz

Joanna Jullien is an educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. Trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, she is a mother of two grown sons, an author of books on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture, and produces the Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on