Digital Parenting And Setting Boundaries

Digital Parenting And Setting Boundaries
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At every Digital Parenting or Cyber Safety talk I present there is always at least one parent who asks me how they can get their child “off” Kik Messenger. This question is usually asked after they have heard from myself, the teachers and the police, during the talk, that Kik Messenger is far too dangerous for kids to use. The frequency of this type of question indicates, that there is clearly a problem with how some parents view what is known as “digital parenting“. Many parents really do feel absolutely helpless around setting boundaries for their children and their digital devices.

The strange thing is that parents that ask this question, probably have no problem with setting other types of boundaries for their children for example, telling their child to not to eat the whole packet of biscuits in one gobut taking a digital app away seems to them like a different set of skills are requirednope, it’s the same animal.

The answer I usually give after such a question is that digital parenting is no different from non-digital parenting. Parents need to set boundaries and enforce them by supervising to the best of your ability, and then setting consequences for pushing or breaking those boundaries. For example “I see you ate all the biscuits againok I‘m not buying anymore of those for 2 weeks!” or…”I see you reinstalled that app again after we agreed you couldn’t use it, ok you must hand over your iPod for the next 2 nights!”

But How Do I STOP Them!

As with all aspects of parenting, you can’t simply try to outwit your children at every turn, you can’t guarantee that your child will follow all the rules you’ve set, and you won’t always “catch them out”. You can only do your best to explain why the boundaries are in force, how important it is for everyone’s wellbeing that they stay within them, offer safe alternatives if you can, and deal with the issues when they arise if they do go outside of them. It’s a long term process that takes time, needs to start early and yes, they will mess up!

Digital parenting isn’t about staying one step ahead or trying to outsmart your teen. Our children have a greater ability to outwit us if they really want to, not just on technology but in every way. Our job as parents is to make sure that their desire to push those boundaries and possibly come to harm is lessened by understanding the dangers to themselves if they do, respecting our leadership and wisdom, and yes believing that the consequences from mum and dad are a real and inevitable deterrent.

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Another example of this digital parenting disconnect was a parent at a recent talk who asked me “How to I stop my child from deleting his browser history?” (so that she could supervise where he was going online). She hoped there was a “fix” or button she could push. The answer I gave was simple, “tell him he is not allowed to delete his history, it is part of the deal you have with him that allows him to have the use of a computer/iPad”. The parent was incredulous…I further explained, if you find the browser history deleted, you set a consequence, the same as you would if you said, “junior don’t hit your sister” and junior hits his sister…

Afraid Of Kids Reaction?

Some parents are far too fearful about taking steps that whilst sensible and necessary, might upset their kids. Do your own research, find out about what your child is using, and decide if the risks are worth it, but don’t allow your child to use a dangerous app simply because you are afraid of the tantrum your child will throw. Continue down that path, and you’ll be in a world of trouble when they are an older teen and want to do other high risk activities.  Yes it’s a pain to say no and then deal with their anger, but ultimately, the more you stand your ground the easier it gets.

Don’t Overreact!

I’ve had parents contact me about their child who has flouted the rules the parents have set around their child’s online use, who have set a consequence that is completely over the top. Banning the entire social media and internet for 10 months! Not only will you do more harm than good, setting extreme punishments will give you absolutely no where to go. What do you do next time, ban them for 2 years? Small consequences can have more impact than you think, taking the computer or iPad away just for the weekend or even two weekends, may be a huge inconvenience for your child. Remember their world is a lot smaller than ours, and what doesn’t seem a big deal to us, might be a massive deal for them.

Consistency and keeping things in proportion is so much more effective than losing your cool, and going ballistic. Having said that, I realise that there is a pay off for parents who want to ban things “FOR EVER”…because then they then don’t have to “police” things or deal with it.

Yes parenting is hard..I know, believe me! Wouldn’t it be soooo much easier if we lived in an Amish community! NO TECHNOLOGY!

Ok… welcome back to the real world.

But They Will Lose All Their Friends!

Some parents have also expressed to me their fears around their children losing all their friends who also use Kik Messenger if they delete the app. In reality, most kids (as adults do) use at least 3 or 4 different messaging apps, and all of them are safer than Kik Messenger! If enough parents get the message that Kik Messenger is not a safe or suitable app for kids, enough children will hopefully migrate to one of the safer messaging apps, the conversation and socialising will simply move location. I recommend Skype or iMessage as good safer substitutes.

Taking Things Away – Yes You Can!

There will be other apps like Kik Messenger. Apps that you think are reasonably safe for kids, but turn out to be highly dangerous, as Kik now 17+ has become. Many parents tell me they simply cannot reverse their decisions, or take something away that was previously allowed. Of course you can! No parent is infallible or needs to appear that way to their children. There will be many times where we decide that something seems safe or a good idea only to find out that it wasn’t. If we cannot reverse things or take things back we cannot be effective parents. I’m sure all parents have had an instance where they have had to do an about turn after giving something to their child or allowing something. Taking something away or returning it, when you have found out about the real dangers is the only sensible and responsible thing for a parent to do!

Digital Parenting is JUST parenting. Use the same skills. 

Like everything else about parenting, get informed! None of us had children that came with a How-To manual, we all had to learn about educating our children and catering to their particular needs. Digital parenting is just another side or part of parenting, admittedly one that we weren’t taught by our own parents, but never the less, it’s now part of our parenting responsibility, time to catch up.

Parents Need To Support Each Other!

Remember cyber safety is a community responsibility, it’s simply not good enough to say “my child is safe because I care, and because I’m cyber smart!”. We need to make sure all our children’s friends are save online, especially the ones that don’t have “Cyber Savvy” parents. Make sure your child and their friends are using safe apps and playing safe games designed for their age group.

Click Here to go to my previous post on Kik Messenger Dangers For Kids.

 

 

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  • Marion

    Leonie, i read with interest your above article and find myself struggling with the whole concept of trying to be cyber aware for the sake of my 10 and 12 year old children. The challenge i’m finding is that i have to continually be aware of the latest and greatest apps that my kids are using to which i’m otherwise clueless with engaging in. Sometimes, I only hear about a ‘new’ app, when they have already been using it for awhile. How do we maintain a constant healthy internet environment for these kids who clearly have it as part of their social network. New forms of internet social mediums are cropping up all the time, its hard to stay on top of it all, particularly when i’m not someone who dabbles in anything much besides facebook. I only have just discovered my 12 year old has KiK and i’m not sure if its suitable for him to have this? All his friends do, but like you mentioned above, if one gets ‘canned’ another will quickly take its place. At the fast rate of knots that this is all happening, how can we stay abreast of all this? I constantly chat to my children at length about looking after their digital footprints – but i feel i should be looking to take a more ‘parental stance’.

    • Thanks for your question Marion, it certainly is difficult to keep up with kids and where they go. The main thing parents need to do, is to try and treat digital parenting the same way as they would other types issues in their parenting. You need to set up some agreements with your children about their behaviour around digital devices. For kids 10 and 12 it’s perfectly ok, to spot check their devices with full knowledge of your children, digital devices are a privilege not a right! It’s also ok, to set some rules around the devices. Rules such as please ask me permission before you download a new app. You can, if needed set the device up with a password so that they need your password to download a new app. (go to general settings and restrictions on iDevices) Then this gives you time to do some research on the new app. You will start to get a “feel” for apps when you have done it for some time. As kids get into their teens you need to start loosening the ties a bit. Take off the parental controls. In order to do this, kids need to know what they are and are not allowed to do. i.e. New games need to be rated PG or M not MA15+ or 17+ (check the ratings tho they are not all accurate, some dating apps are rated 12+ and 4+.) My youngest 14 still asks me permission for some apps he knows are border line. He asked me only today about a game, and when I looked it up it was aged 18+ ….so that’s a NO! Set your boundaries as you do for any other type of parenting, and then encourage good behaviour and reward it. “I’m so pleased you asked me first” or…if not…”Ummm you didn’t ask me about this app, I need to check it out…” http://www.commonsensemedia.org has a great mobile app, where you can put in any app or game in their search engine and you will get a fair rating and idea of the safety of the game.
      Just ask your kids to ask permission. Tell them it’s part of your job as a parent to make sure what they are using is safe, same as you would if they were hiring a movies and you needed to make sure it was rated suitably. Try not to over think all this, it’s simply supervision and googling the safety of any app or looking on common sense.org is your first port of call. If you kids mess up, and push boundaries be sure to follow up with a moderate consequence. Taking the device away for a night should do it. Be consistent, and fair and give lots of explanation to start with but then just stand your ground afterwards without having to justifying your stand. If we can set up good ground rules about what they can and cannot do at an early age, it really helps when they get older and they want to do more things by themselves away from our eyes! Make sure you talk to other parents about this, but in the end make up your own mind, so many parents just can’t be bothered to “police” apps, because they simply find it too hard. Let me know if I can help further. If you subscribe to this blog, or “like” my Facebook Page I’m always doing posts on new apps, and the settings that are needed to keep our kids safe.

      • Marion

        I like what you say and how you say it Leonie, great pearls of wisdom here that i’ll be employing straight away! Thank you also for the link to the Commonsensemedia.org. With the rate that these apps/games/ social media sites come and go, it’s time efficient and valuable to be able to go to just one place and get an open, ‘commonsense’ fair review.

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