It was only a matter of month’s ago that a YouTube video entitled, “Facebook Parenting: For the Troubled Teen,” made the news cycle, as a parent lived out many a parent’s fantasy in the digital age. Parent Tommy Jordan took his handgun and put several rounds into his teen’s computer after discovering a private complaint letter his daughter placed on her Facebook account that was aimed at him. The reaction nationwide was mixed. Some applauded the father and some criticized. Everyone seemed to have a strong position on his actions.
Who Are These Kids?
After working closely with teenagers for 15 years, I’ve seen a growing level of frustration of parents over their teenager’s dependency on Facebook, iPhones and WiFi. It was only a short time ago that many parents remember that privacy on the phone required a really long phone cord that could be stretched into the other room. Now, children as young as 8 are texting their friends late into the night.
There are some facts that we must agree upon. Technology is an incredible tool today. The fact that we are able to video chat someone in China for free is a massive benefit to business and with those who have loved ones overseas. Second, our children and teenagers are growing up in the digital age. They do not know life without email, Internet or remember the joys of a pager. Their future employment and schooling will largely be saturated and dependent on technology. Third, technology is changing at the speed of light. It seems that one month after you buy the new iPhone, it is already outdated. Lastly, if we are to parent responsibly in the digital age, parents will need to devote some time to learning technology.
It’s Not My Thing …
It has not been uncommon for students to bully online or post pictures that parents would not approve of on their Facebook page. Several times, when I have made a parent aware of the interactions that are going on with their teen, a parent will look and admit that they do not understand the technology, nor do they have the time or desire to learn about it. My normal reaction has been to ask why they empowered their youth with something that they do not have the ability to control. Parents who equip their students with this level of technology, while not taking the time to investigate or learn about it, can in no way be surprised when part of their teen’s private life comes out and shocks them.
As we move forward into the digital age, there are largely three reactions parents may take. One, is they seclude and cut off their youth from all technology and impair their students who will be growing up to use it for jobs and everyday life. Two, is to hand over powerful technology and not care about the interactions their child is having on it. Three, a parent takes the time to learn about the technology and then empowers their child with it with guidelines. This is not an attempt to say parents should spy on every move their teen makes, but there is nothing wrong with a parent having the passwords to their student’s Facebook and also be allowed to check their text messages whenever they desire.
Stay Out of My Private Life!
The normal cry against this is that it is spying on the private life of a teenager. While I am all for privacy, the shift in our culture is that we have made teenagers more independent at younger ages than they are prepared for developmentally. Twenty years ago, teenagers were part of a family unit and only experienced minimal independence from that unit until they were 16 and could drive or 18 and moved out. With the technology boom, students now experience independence with their Facebook account and their private cell phone conversations. As a result, when a parent attempts to remind the teen that they are part of a family and answer to a parent, it is viewed as spying.
With the stories of stalking, sexual predators and cyber-bullying, a parent should be extra vigilant to monitor their student’s interactions. This presents, not conflict, but an opportunity to talk through decisions and consequences with their student. What a great opportunity to build trust and communication (without using a computer or phone screen)!
What to do?
The good news is there are resources available! I would encourage parents to learn about upcoming technologies through sites such as www.gizmodo.com or www.wired.com. If you need some more technical help, you would be surprised at the information you can find on YouTube (how to check internet history, etc.). There are also technologies such as Net Nanny that can help monitor your student’s interactions online.
I would also encourage parents to learn about their mobile family plan benefits. Recent studies show teenagers are staying up until 1 or 2 a.m. texting on school nights. This can easily be controlled to shut off texting after certain hours through your mobile provider. Many experts in preventing online predators encourage parents to only let their students have a Facebook or Twitter account if they are allowed to have their passwords. A friend and parent of mine has gone so far to allow his children to have his password for his Facebook to build trust between parent and teen.
Lastly, be vigilant and wise as parents. It is not unusual for a teen to have two or three online accounts. Keep your eyes open and your ears listening. Above all, view this as an opportunity to teach, rather than another heated confrontation.
What rules does your family have about Facebook use? Tell us in the comments.