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 go…but taking a digital app away seems to them like a different set of skills are required…nope, 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 again…ok 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.
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.
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.