Do you think parents have a good understanding of what their kids are doing online? Is ‘cyber safety’ something parents are really thinking about? Are the words ‘cyber safe’ even still necessary? Or should it all just come back to general parenting skills? Are we doing a good job of parenting in this area or our we failing our kids?
Certainly there are some that are doing a great job of parenting in this space. There are some that talk often with their kids. They talk about what they like to do online, what concerns they have, what the pitfalls are, how they are avoiding them, how they are creating positive digital footprints, how they are learning new skills, being entertained and socialising with friends. They are usually the parents that turn up to cyber safety information nights, read all the material sent home and have pretty close and open relationships with their kids. Their kids are generally handling themselves well in the online space, respecting themselves and respecting others.
Then there are those parents that have very little understanding of what their kids are doing online. They believe it is all too hard and not something they are willing to fight. They have little or no control over what their children are doing and are unaware of the negative trail of interactions their kids are leaving as their digital footprint. Their kids are giving away too much information, using offensive and expletive language, posting inappropriate photos and saying nasty things to others. Or alternatively, there are some parents who think they have adequate control by setting up filtering software and blocking certain sites, naive to the extent of ‘getting around the parental controls’ that their child is truly capable of exerting.
But it is a new element to parenting and certainly one that is unique to our generation. It is difficult to come to grips with everything our kids can potentially be exposed to and experience online. It is difficult to keep tabs of all the places our kids may want to visit and all the accounts they will set up. It is difficult to keep up to date with all their usernames and passwords. It is difficult to monitor all the people our kids are interacting with and all the photos they are sharing.
It is difficult to keep up.
But when I talk to parents after an information session or presentation, I think to myself, despite having all these concerns and all these questions about what they should and shouldn’t be letting their kids do, what rules they should enforce and what knowledge they need about how the technology works, I often think and even say to these parents, ‘your kids will more than likely be ok’. ‘You are here, turning up in the middle of winter on a cold night to a cyber safety presentation. You have a good understanding of your child’s challenges. You are making a good attempt at understanding their world. You are having discussions with them and you are wanting to learn. Your child will probably make a few mistakes along the way, but they will likely be little ones you both learn from and not big life altering ones’.
It all comes back to that desire to stay connected not just to the technology but to your kids as well. Don’t expect the school cyber safety expert to teach your kids everything they need to know. Don’t expect you can ban and block a few websites from your kids to keep them safe.
I certainly (obviously) believe that learning about what it means to parent with technology and the online world is imperative today. I think knowledge in this area is an absolute must if we are going to help our kids safely navigate this world. Most of the trouble parents have in this area however, tends to come back to a lack of some more general parenting requirements such as taking an active interest in all they are doing, talking to them and more importantly, listening to them, and making a concerted effort to see things from their perspective and understand their world.
If we can make a really good attempt at all that……then we have a pretty good chance of all making it through.
What are your thoughts? Are we getting it right? What is your experience of the families around you?