One of the greatest challenges of parenting tech-savvy youth is balancing rules and relationships. There is much confusion between trust and faith and private and secret. The biggest obstacle to building trust with tech-savvy youth is a parent’s fear which kills open communication. And because we parents are by default fearful of smartphone dangers and children are early adopters of technology that makes it easy to conceal what is happening online, the chances are good that a child may have downloaded apps and/or engaged in communications that introduce adult issues and risks into their life and yet they appear innocent at first glance.
It is true that a parent cannot know what a child is thinking or experiencing unless they choose to tell you about it. Therefore, the main goal of parenting must be open, honest communication about life’s events and issues on and offline.
Kenny Hill Sr, CADC II, is a Certified Brainspotting Therapist, whose private practice, Recovery Hill, is in Sacramento. In his work with adolescents he observes that parents are often unaware of what is happening in their child’s online world. In the list below, Kenny offers some examples of apps youth download without parental awareness or guidance:
Ghost apps. Ghost apps are apps that can be hidden, appear as a normal app, or have the intention of deceiving. Here are some Ghost Apps, along with some other notable apps, that are very popular with teens. (Note: Instagram for “Finsta” accounts, Snap Chat, and other popular ones have are not included here).
- Fake GPS apps. These are made to disguise the location of a phone that is being tracked. A teen could be playing hooky in San Francisco, while having their GPS signal show they’re in school.
- Hide It Pro (HIP) – appears to be a music app, but is used by teens to hide photos, music, and other apps that contain adult content.
Kik – Here teens connect and share information. With no age verification, making it a place for sexual predators to connect with under age youth. Also, cyberbullying is prevalent. This app serves as a texting app, which does not require a phone number.
AfterSchool is a chat app that anonymously connects students. This brings about an environment that can encourage cyberbullying.
Ask.fm – After setting up a profile, anonymous users can ask questions or post comments on the profile. This leads to teens posting inappropriate answers, but also receiving bullying/verbal abuse/sexual advances.
Blendr – a heterosexual version of Grindr, a dating app that rates “hotness.” Teens use this app, exchanging photos, videos, and messages. This app has no age restriction, allowing for adults and teens to connect.
Vora – a dieting app that has become popular for teens with eating disorders. Teens have encouraged each other in risky eating or fasting behaviors.
How to rebuild trust if your child has inappropriate apps and/or adult content
Before any meaningful regulation of technology use can be learned parents and children need to be clear about concepts critical to human relations, such as trust versus faith and private versus secret, in order to establish a common understanding of how to respond to life’s events. When you openly share common beliefs and values, it is possible to continually rebuild trust when children and parents experience adversity. Below are some parenting goals to inspire youth to collaborate with parents on matters of personal security and online safety.
First parent goal is to impart wisdom about using free will. The first concept to communicate is the premise of free will. Your child needs to know that you get it. You understand that your child has the same powers of self-determination as an adult: memory, intellect and will. Therefore they must learn early how to take responsibility for their own thoughts and actions, on and offline. And your job as the parent is to teach your child how to use their power wisely and not give it up to the bully, the drug or the device. (Read more about smartphones and house rules).
Second parent goal is to clarify the difference between trust and faith. Often parents and youth believe that monitoring a child’s activities on and off line is an invasion of privacy, and breaks the trust in their relationship. The truth is that trust among people is always verifiable because people are prone to error. While faith we reserve for God who requires no proof. So your motto as a cyber-parent might go something like this: “I inspect what I expect. I expect you are having age-appropriate experiences and that online circumstances may conspire against you, so I will monitor in order to guide you to protect your privacy and security.” The key in exercising this motto is to refrain from responding with anger or anxiety to things that your child may get into that disturb the peace (gossip, bullying, sexual content and experiences).
Rather, be prepared to have conversations about the fact that choices and experiences that are beneath their dignity do not define them in your own mind, and encourage them make the changes in their own mind about who they are as a magnificent son or daughter, so they can then perceive a choice to right themselves. Often they are experiencing painful natural consequences. If this is the case, then there is no need to add more negative consequences. For example, a daughter who is being bullied horribly because she shared a nude photo with a love interest, does not need more consequences. She needs a parent helping her to choose to reconnect to her dignity and stand corrected from the experience. (For additional help, contact Joanna.)
Third goal is to clarify the difference between private and secret. This is a major deceit in the parent-child relationship wherein it is believed that secret is the same thing as private. Effective parents do not grant privacy. They protect privacy and in the process teach their children how to do it on their own. Private is personal business that you conceal from the world because not everybody is trustworthy or needs to know what is happening with you. While secrets harbor risk, and the incentive to keep risky secrets is a belief that parents will not understand and children fear they will lose favor if secrets, like inappropriate photos, being bullied or harassed, or sexual exploitation, are found out.
Finally, to rebuild trust be the change you want to see. A trustworthy parent a) acknowledges that their child already has the same powers of self-determination as an adult, b) builds trust by inspecting what they expect of their children as decent human beings who can learn from poor choices, and c) in the process of monitoring a child’s life on and offline does not agree with the choices and experiences that are beneath the dignity of their humanity. When we proceed with this confidence, that we and our children are equipped to correct inappropriate behavior with better choices, parents become a trusted resource to impart wisdom – especially when a child is dealing with adult issues that inspire hiding the risky situation with a sense of separation that may at times seem unsurvivable.
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.
Peace on earth begins with peace at home.
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Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.