When kids make mistakes online should you tell their parents? Should you dob on other peoples kids or should you stay out of others business for fear of reprisal? Are you happy for someone to expose your own child’s less than glowing behaviour to yourself? Our kids will no doubt make some mistakes online. Goodness knows plenty of adults do.
But what should you do when…….
You see a nasty comment made by a child to another child on your sons feed?
Or a somewhat raunchy picture showing a little too much cleavage and a sexy pout by a young girl in your daughters grade.
Or you notice a conversation between 2 kids getting out of hand on your child’s social media?
Or your child shows you something one of her mates has done that makes her feel uncomfortable?
Or you are flicking through Facebook and you see an inappropriate video shard by your friend’s child?
Or you see your friends child online at 4am in the morning whilst you are up breastfeeding your baby?
Or you see your friends child holding an alcoholic beverage at a party, knowing too well your friend doesn’t allow it?
At what point do you give them a call, send them a message or pull them aside at the school gate and spill the beans on their child’s online antics?
I get this question a lot. And every time I am reminded that there is no clear cut answer. Every situation is different, every child is different and it’s usually an area we want to tread very carefully.
Sometimes the delicate nature of awakening a parent to their child’s questionable behaviours can be a rocky road to travel (because, let’s face it, no child is ever perfect, but some parents take the news with a slightly more considered approach than others).
Here are some things you might want to consider when it comes to approaching other parents.
The safety of the child
Obviously the safety of any child is paramount. So if you believe that a child is talking to someone who is unsavoury or who is unlikely to be who they say they are, then a quick shout out to the parent is going to be welcome. If you see a child being threatened by another person online then absolutely we want that threat to stop. If you see a child in any physical or severe psychological danger, then it is important that we all be the upstanders needed to ensure that person remains safe. I think even if a child is online at the wee hours of the morning it is highly likely the parent is not aware of this…and not much good can come of that, least of which a broken nights sleep. So yes, if a child’s safety is at risk, we certainly should be stepping in.
The Age of the Child
Again this could be a ‘no brainer’ if it is a really young child who doesn’t yet have the social, emotional and cognitive development to handle a situation they may find themselves in online. If a person is unaware of the dangers they are in due to their age and development, or if they are unaware of the hurt they are causing or having done to them, then they need to be pulled up on this as part of the teaching process. Once again many of our young people are hanging out in places they are not always ready for, and so we as adults with the wisdom of years and experience, must step in to help them with that. On the other hand a teenage boy or girl may be quite OK with the decisions they are making and feel quite comfortable living with any such consequences.
The nature of the act
Of course we need to take into account what exactly has been done and size up the risk of exposure. Let’s not forget that many parents have different values and whilst something may be totally unacceptable to you, it may not necessarily be the case for another child’s family. Some families may be ok with their child sharing raunchy images. Because someones definition of a what is an acceptable image may be vastly different to yours. Some may be ok with their child sharing violent videos or songs with questionable lyrics. Some may even be ok with underage drinking and thus not be perturbed by this appearing online. Everyone has their own values and boundaries that are important to them and I guess we have to sometimes be aware of these differences when we are judging the behaviours of others.
The relationship between your children
If you dob on your child’s friends what will that mean for your child? Could this potentially damage their relationship and cause more angst for your own child? Could you instead encourage your own child to say something to their friend about their online antics? A couple of words from a close friend may have a lot more weight than those said by an old timer.
Could your child be branded the child with the tell tale parent? Could it mean your child gets excluded from chats or groups because of mums extra snooping? Or could it make your child relieved that they no longer have to deal with the knowledge or the weight of their friends online blunders? Once again if their safety is at stake then any relationship dramas this cause will just have to be dealt with, otherwise we might want to think carefully about the ramifications for our own child.
The relationship between yourself and other parents
Could telling another parent about their child’s online discretions do harm to your own friendship or wider friendship group? How well do you know these parents? Are they likely to get defensive and shoot you down? Or will they be thankful for your input? Could this affect your relationship with other people if you are seen as all judgey about other peoples kids? Do you feel comfortable to approach them in person? Do you feel capable of sending them an anonymous text asking them to check their child’s feed or have a chat to their child about a certain issue?
So the answer is there is no correct answer to this except to look at each situation and weigh up the desired outcome with the likelihood of that happening. I have seen time and again the different extent to which parents have a grasp on what their kids are doing. Whilst some see quite a bit, others have zero idea. And whilst I always advocate for teaching our kids the skills and behaviours to be responsible wherever they find themselves online, this cannot happen if we are not privy to some of the behaviours that may require some extra tutalege!