I have had the pleasure of meeting Martine in real life on a number of occasions. She is an inspiring person to be around and I love that her knowledge comes from both her personal experience as a mum and professionally as a counsellor. Martine blogs at The Modern Parent which is all about helping families in the modern world.
As a parent today we want to protect our kids, keep them safe, encourage their potential, support them through their challenges, provide them with opportunity and nurture their individuality, creativity and strong sense of self. These are all important aspects of parenting that have been around for many years. Today however, the playing field is vastly different. In this world that is changing on an almost daily basis, it is now up to us as parents to ensure that we are keeping up with the game. We need not become technological gurus or suddenly turn into social network junkies, but we do need to become aware.
Below are some examples of the sorts of things that can help us understand. In having some knowledge and perspective, we are better able to help our kids through their journey, encourage communication and provide the guidance that they will still need, despite the relative ease with which they have become immersed in technology and the online world.
1. Kids are confused too
Our kids today are really no different to kids of years gone by. They want to hang out, gossip, flirt, play games, test boundaries and take risks. They want to do all this stuff as part of their search for their place amongst peers and society, just like we did. But today our kids are doing these things in the most public of places. And herein lies their conundrum. They are wanting to be private, but are doing so in a setting that is completely transparent.
2. You won’t control everything they see.
Despite your outlay for the latest filtering software and security updates, and even an attempt to hover over their shoulder, your kids will more than likely see things that you don’t want them too…and sometimes things that make you squirm, shudder and even feel sick. No matter your parental controls at home, and no matter how tight a reign you hold over the family computers, our kids can log in to the net almost anytime and anywhere. You cannot control other kids, what they look at, what devices they carry and what they show to your kids. Obviously there will be many that will get through avoiding such exposure, but there will be many more that wont.
3. The messenger can get shot.
Sexting and bullying online are real problems with very real consequences. If you are seen to forward on an offending message or picture you can be just as liable as the original perpetrator.
4. They will find a way around.
Parents often prevent their kids from setting up Facebook accounts to avoid the challenges that go with it. But kids will find a way around. There will always be another social networking site they can find to communicate. Many unsuspecting parents have let their kids join up with Instagram and the like to pursue their love of photography and all things creative, only to find that there is great scope for chatting, making new connections and extending their social network.
5. Ipods and xbox’ can be chat sites too.
Just because your kids don’t have a mobile or phone connection doesn’t mean they are not chatting with both friends and potentially people unknown. Kids with a basic ipod touch or game controller can use any wireless connection within reach to connect with people. I learnt this when I heard my son giggling at night with his ipod touch in hand. Upon investigation I discovered that he was messaging his friend from a device I thought he was using only to listen to music.
6. Your kids can be tracked.
Whilst there are apps and devices that can make it easy for parents to learn the whereabouts of their kids, it also means that people you may not want knowing their whereabouts can easily discover their exact location. Geolocators can let anyone know where your child is heading, what time they will be there and who, if anyone, they will be there with. You can turn these off your mobile devices, but research suggests that the majority don’t, and in fact many are often ‘checking in’ to places to advertise their exact location.
7. There is no real delete.
The photos you upload and the words that you write can be accessed for at least the next 7 years. What your kids write at 14 can be very different to the persona they want to portray at 22. Talk often about the “staying power” of anything that is online. Even if you later go and delete something you regret saying or uploading, there is a good chance that it may have already been forwarded on, shared or copied.
8. What you say can become your resume.
There are companies that exist solely to trawl through the net and gather information on people (and potentially our kids) to give to potential employers or to those deciding on tertiary entrance. Your online persona in effect becomes your digital resume. Whilst you may refuse such access to whatever they find, others may be more reluctant to hire someone who they feel may have something to hide.
Some of these points and the many stories that we hear can certainly be frightening and often overwhelming for parents. But as long as we continue to ask questions, seek out knowledge, and retain and nourish a connection with our kids, we will be better equipped to continue to support and guide our children as we all endeavor to embrace this new world.
Martine is a mother of 5 boys who runs a family, parent and youth counselling service in conjunction with her blog The Modern Parent. With a background in secondary teaching, a Masters in Counselling and the personal experience of running a busy household, Martine successfully combines the personal and the professional to help us find more joy and less stress in our daily lives. She has a passionate interest in helping families to safely navigate the modern world of parenting, with a particular interest in the role that technology plays in the lives of our children and our families. Martine is also available for speaking presentations and workshops to help us better understand this dynamic and all encompassing new world. You can find her at her blog themodernparent.net
What are your biggest challenges with kids and technology?