In January of this year, our church, Gateway, hosted ‘Parenting Matters’ a series of talks about issues important to parents. In particular, we discussed internet and social media.
The first week, my friend Lyle Jones, the Juvenile Magistrate for Tipton County, and Sottie Delashmit, the Director of Juvenile Services for Juvenile Court in Tipton County, spoke about some of the dangers to children’s and teens. As you can imagine, they were able to give well informed warnings about predators. They also addressed some of the consequences of poor decisions made by kids.
My son and daughter are teenagers and as the Media Director at Gateway, I spend a lot of time on the computer. I use schedulers like HootSuite, but I probably still spend more time on Social Media than the average parent. So, I was invited to speak the second week. A friend of mine (Hi, Becca!) is getting her son a phone and asking for tips from parents, so I thought I’d share here what I spoke about that night.
The first week was pretty graphic. I went home feeling very anxious. I didn’t sleep well, and spent some time wringing my hands and worrying. But the Lord reminded me that He doesn’t want me to have a spirit of fear, but of power and sound judgment. He gives us power through the Holy Spirit. We are transformed because He renews our mind as we dwell on pure, lovely, commendable things. In addition to asking hIm for peace, be prepared with sound judgement.
I’m not going to tell you we are great parents, but we trust in a great God. We make mistakes. Lots of them. Our children are annoyed by some of our rules. When I was looking up stats and preparing , Drew asked me if I was going to ‘poison other parents’ with our ideas. 🙂
Let’s start with RULES
- Clear rules should be communicated BEFORE devices have been given. If that hasn’t happened: it isn’t too late! Start a conversation like this: “Have you ever seen anything on-line that has made you uncomfortable or curious?” Ask open ended questions like “What happened?” “How did it make you feel?” “What did you do?” “Was it accidental or intentional?” “What’s the plan?” Conversations like this can be uncomfortable, but it sets a precedent. Being able to discuss difficult things is a skill they’ll need throughout life.
- We monitor their activity. We have every password (which for safety reasons, should be changed often) and access to every account and device at any time. We are their friends on social media sites. Every one they are a part of, one of us is on that network as well. When we check their devices, we look at direct (or private) messages as well as public info too. This applies to FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, and any other networks. Accountability from parents now, accountability from friends later. It’s a premise they’ll need their whole lives.
- Cyber-bullying. We’ve taught our children to be kind to others and if they see someone being unkind, they should ask them to stop then TELL US. If someone is mean to them, we want them to TELL US. It’s important to assure them they won’t be in trouble for telling us. I don’t think there is a standard response to every situation. As their parents, we are equipping them to learn how to deal with mean people. It’s a life skill.
- Basically, anything that they wouldn’t do/say in front of us they shouldn’t do on-line. Whether it’s photos/videos/bad language, etc. I’ve seen some crude humor posted by my kids, and I’ve made them remove it. I’ve seen them use bad language, and made them apologize. Dealing with mistakes is something they’ll do their whole lives.
- No texting during ‘class’ time. We homeschool, so it’s a bit different for us, but the rules are the same. They may use their devices to look up scripture, research, and write. But no phone calls or social media. Being disciplined enough to focus on the task at hand is skill they’ll need as adults.
- All electronics are turned in at a specified time before bed. Our friends Tony & Tammy instituted this rule, we loved it and copied it. Everyone needs ‘unplugged’ time.
- If a stranger contacts them, they are to tell us. This included an unknown number calling their phone.
- If someone asks them something inappropriate, don’t respond. TALK TO US. And, they WON’T BE IN TROUBLE when they tell us. If their friends do something that breaks these rules, they won’t be in trouble for telling us.
There are consequences for not following rules, like losing privileges. Owning a phone is a privilege, not a right. (As I write this, one of mine is in the midst of consequences.) TALK to your kids about WHY you are doing this. We have rules in place because we love them.
Next up: Apps
When making decisions about apps ask yourself these questions:
- Did you have to lie about your age to join/play/use? It’s not OK to lie about your age to do someone IRL, so it isn’t ok online either.
- Were you asked to provide a lot of personal information? First AND last name, phone, address, IM/skype name
- Are adults you don’t know able to interact with you on the site/game/app? Can they PM or friend you? It’s not okay for adults to have friendships with children they don’t know in real life, so it isn’t okay online. Interacting with strangers online can put you in danger – even if they say they are your age, they could be deceiving you.
- Does the site/game/app have content that is inappropriate for kids to see/participate in?
- Do people use the site/game/app to post mean and hurtful things about other people? Clicking ‘like’ on a mean comment or forwarding a rude text is just as bad as writing the comment or text yourself. Cyber-bullying can get you in trouble at school and with the law.
- If the answer is YES to any of these questions, it’s not for you.
It’s important to emphasize to your kids that they matter and so does their privacy.
Let’s talk about ‘over-sharing’. This is a common practice for adults as well as kids. May I caution you about posting a photo of your 4 year old pooping in the tub? That’ll be great on a job interview when he’s 24! Employers look for things like that before hiring. I would say his future wife and mother-in-law don’t need that info out there either. Over-sharing also puts you at risk for financial fraud, identity theft, and robbery or physical harm. This is true for adults and children. Your reputation can be ruined based on what you share online. The internet is forever. *Climbing down off soapbox*
A word on Parental Controls
You can’t un-see things. We all have seen something that our brain can’t erase. Mine is the Joe Theismann injury. Ugh. Include them in the discussion so they can understand your desire to protect them. The Lord gave them to you for a reason!
The following is a list of resources that is by no means all-inclusive, but it’s a great place to start!
Router – Open DNS Think of this as a first line of defense in your home.
Windows (including Internet explorer) – Family Safety You can set up passwords, and parental controls including time limits, games, and allow/deny specific programs – like your banking on a personal computer.
iOS (iPhone iPod, iPad) – Parental controls
You Tube -SafeSearch (a google app) This only works if you are logged in. So searching from Safari, for example, will not restrict it. You can disallow the specific website, though on mobile devices. Be Web Smart has great instructions on this.
Netflix has some parental controls. Your Sphere shares some information about that. They have lots of great articles.
Mobicip is parental control software available for many devices and is free. There is a premium-level access.
Parents of Drivers
There are apps like: Textecution that offer solutions to help prevent texting while driving.
Prayerfully talk to your kids. 🙂 No software is completely safe! Generally speaking, children know more about software/computers/technology than you do. TALK to them. The most important thing to chat with them about is the Lord and what His Word says. If you are fearful, pray and ask the Lord to give you peace. Lovingly discuss digital life with your kids, just as you would academics and health issues. The more you talk about what’s going on, the less time consuming your monitoring will be and the more your child will be open to thinking about his safety online.