When my first child was born, friends and family would visit. They would stand over the crib and stare at my doe-eyed daughter and say, “Wait, before you know it, she will be getting her license.” I must have heard that cautionary point at least half a dozen times with each of my three children. I get it. Life passes quickly. One day, your daughter is in fuzzy pink overalls sitting behind a tray in her high chair. Blink, and she is sitting in a miniskirt behind a steering-wheel. Or so I hear, as my children have yet to reach that point but I, nonetheless, understand their point. The right to drive was once a first rite of passage from youth into young adulthood; a literal portal to the big, vast world.
The privilege of operating a motor vehicle has always presented vast responsibility and immense convenience. It also presents the possibility of sheer independence, the necessity of good judgment, and the presence of danger all at once. With all of that in mind, I am not rushing that moment when my eldest daughter asks my husband and me for the keys to the car and backs out of our driveway alone.
The world continues to evolve and now there is a tool of equal weight and consequence that our youth operate even sooner than the automobile. The Internet. When used responsibly, this tool can be a great source of convenience, knowledge, education, and communication. This same invention also puts children in direct interaction with the big, vast world out there without leaving the comfort and assumed safety of their parent’s home. Among great possibility also lurks the opportunity for those seeking anonymity and those with less than honorable intentions. There is a world of promise coupled with danger right within your own home. The issue then becomes, How do we offer our children independence and respect and protection simultaneously?
My friend, Jamie Tripp Utitus, Parental Guidance blogger for nj.com recently wrote a story, Facebook, Should We Get Access If Our Child Dies? Jamie focuses on the Nash family, a family who lost their fifteen year old son to suicide. Now that grieving family has been battling Facebook to have the right to access their deceased 15 year-old son’s inbox with the hope of finding a clue about why he took his own precious life.
It also presents the larger issue of whether a parent should have legal access to a child’s social networking account or if it should be kept private. As an individual with a therapeutic background in the medical field, I spent many years working with families and contending with privacy laws. Even in those circumstances, the parents of a minor may access their child’s records. It, therefore, seems foolish that parents can access the most intimate of psychiatric and medical records but are then denied the right to their child’s inbox messages.
How do you protect your child from cyber bullying, access to inappropriate content, exposure to predators, and from revealing too much personal information? As portable devices become ever popular and the Internet can now be accessed from smart phones and iPads in school hallways, coffee shops, on school buses, and in bathrooms, the task of monitoring becomes ever complex.
This isn’t about reading a locked diary hidden under your child’s bed or protecting your child’s reputation online. This is about navigating an entirely new dimension in the lives of our youth. It seems that protecting your child from the world online is as essential a task as it is to protect your child from the real world.
No plan is perfect and as technology becomes more high-tech, monitoring strategies must become more sophisticated. Here are some suggestions:
- Start the conversation with your kids about online safety. Educate your children on the perils that are out there. Ignorance is not bliss. Revisit the issue often.
- Place limitations on when and where children can access certain websites.
- Put rules in place for when and what a webcam can be used for. Discuss texting and what it should be used for and how often it can be used. Establish reasonable boundaries and honor them.
- Set up the home computer in a highly trafficked area of the home.
- Monitor cell phones, laptops, and devices used for gaming. Check browsing histories.
- Take time to let your children show you what they like to do online. See what sites they visit, become familiar with what they like to do and who they are communicating with.
- Notice any change in your child’s behavior. Look for changes in sleep patterns, eating habits, mood, unwillingness to attend school, withdrawal from social activities, and other changes. Take these changes seriously. Talk to their teachers. Don’t just be your child’s friend but remember you are their greatest advocate. Get your child help if he or she needs it.
Mr. Nash had a good rule for his children. Although he assured them he respected their privacy, he had the password of each child’s account. Days before their son, Eric, ended his life, he changed his own password.
What safety measures have you put in place? I am a firm believer that there is no substitute for good supervision. I am interested to know how thousands upon thousands of other parents are handling the issue. Where do you draw the line between respecting your child’s privacy and safely monitoring their activities?