When I started this mission to strengthen the parent-child bond in a cyber-powered world, my own confidence as a parent had been deeply shaken with the advent of the mobile device in the hands of youth. In the fall of 2004, my digital native had purchased his own “pay-as-you-go” mobile device with his paper route money. And then something called “texting” surfaced. I could sense there was a major difference in the communication patterns as children were making plans and coordinating events outside the purview of parents. So I left a career in technology to better understand what it means to grow up with mobile connectivity, and also what are the new demands on parents.
Access to cyber connectivity makes it easy for kids to keep risky secrets and believe and act on things that are not true (think of cyberbullying, sexting and addiction). It is also easy for parents to only believe what their children tell them, and we know that our children will tell us what they know we parents want to hear, not necessarily what we need to know. Back in 2004-2009 most parents believed that issuing a phone to their child would keep them secure because then parents believed they would be “constantly connected” to their children. Today, many parents realize that issuing a child a smart phone is like giving them the keys to the car.
At the same time back then (2004) the meth epidemic was winding down and the prescription pill epidemic was on the rise as kids were harvesting pharmaceuticals, especially pain killers, from the medicine cabinets in the home. I was awash in a parenting culture of denial and judgment. Denial that our own children could get caught up in snares of bullying, sexual exploitation and drug use; and quick to judge other people’s children and their parents. In this environment of fear-based thinking, the children learned that the crime was to get caught and so the chances of addiction were greater as youth were not getting help when they needed it because it felt safer to keep drug dependency a secret.
And mostly I observed that the children were making good choices despite their peer pressures. They were left vulnerable and feeling unsupported by parents and adults who did not understand how their lives were informing them, and were not able to relate to their desperate need to feel a sense of secure belonging at home and at school.
So now let’s fast forward fifteen years later.
Today I can sum up this new demand on parents with one word: confidence. And there is a question about what it does mean to be a confident parent when our children are dealing with adult issues hyped as extreme experiences in their online worlds? It is so easy to lack confidence in ourselves and our children unless we make the effort to patrol our thoughts. For the confidence our children need comes from wisdom, not from our fears. And it is easy to confuse our fearful opinions with wisdom.
a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities
Attributes of a confident parent in a cyber-powered world
Accept your child is in charge of him or herself. The wisdom thought underpinning these attributes of parent confidence that follow is the same one that makes a free society possible (it was an act of faith): acknowledge that your child possesses intelligent life and free will endowed by the Creator of all humanity; and this is power of self-determination that cannot be taken from them, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. This means that your child is responsible for their own thoughts and actions, on and offline. The sooner you help yourself and your child experience this discipline, the better. (For more on this, go to Fresh Start Family Culture Builder for Household Executives)
Check your own fear and establish cyber rites of passage. You are keenly aware of the difference between your fearful desire to control your child and their circumstances, and the need to educate your child how to build trust with the use of devices and apps. For example, you accept that mobile technology is an integral tool for social life today, and your job is to teach your child how to use these tools with wisdom (which means seeking wise counsel with parents). So rather than prohibit the use of apps and devices, you get interested in what things interest your child, on and off line. And you are open to helping them learn how to use social media, gaming and other apps in ways that reflect your family values. See Cyber Rites of Passage for a guide on building trust with age-appropriate use of devices and apps.
Create house rules that empower. You are willing to allow your child to share with you how their life experiences are informing them and have input on creating and enforcing house rules. The aim with house rules is to have few rules that open up communication about what is happening in life. Transparency in key, and forgiveness is automatic in the form of a clean slate. Once a consequence has been administered, then you do not keep reminding your child about the past infraction. You express confidence in them to learn from it and do better the next time. If the same infraction happens then consider: 1) it might be a stupid rule or inappropriate for your child; 2) there is something you need to learn about what is going on with your child (seek counseling help if your child does not open up to explain what they are thinking about when they violate a house rule).
An example of a house rule that helps you build trust, which reinforces mutual confidence in the parent-child bond, is to establish a family-approved app list. This means that downloading of apps does not happen unless it has been discussed and pre-approved. For example, your child may have a strong interest in gaming online. Let them show you how they want to use it and share with you the things they find valuable about that experience. You have access to the app (passwords) and it is agreed you will do random checks. And depending upon their age and maturity you may require the gaming to happen in the family room – not alone in their bedroom.
Contact Joanna to book two 90-minute sessions to build your parent confidence.
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.
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