We think that we have done enough. We have shown them the cautionary videos, told them about the perils of the Internet, educated them about the stranger-danger, and felt extremely proud when they waited for the right age before getting on the social media bandwagon. Quite a few of us, including yours truly till fairy recently, think that Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram are the only danger zones on internet and we have done our bit if we have protected the kids from these till they grow old enough to use them responsibly. The story sadly doesn’t even begin there.
The innocuous looking games that the little ones play on our mobiles and iPads do not count, right? They are games! What could possibly go wrong? Nothing more than probably some condescending looks from other parents about gaming and some groans from the child when you take the device back. I, being the witch mother, restrict device usage a lot. Yet, the other day, while handing out the ipads to the boys for a limited time to play ‘Clash of Clans,’ a game pretty popular with kids, a few notifications caught my eyes. I swiped across to get a shocker. These were pretty disturbing chat requests with a promise of a ‘good time.’
‘Have you seen these?’ I asked the younger one.
‘Yeah, these keep popping up. I ignore them as they are a bit distracting while playing and some of them have really bad words.’ He looked tad bit tense, probably out of worry for device-time.
‘Why didn’t you tell me before?’
‘I didn’t think it was important.’ He was genuinely confused.
That was a big blow to me, honestly. I was scared and angry at the same time. Scared since both of them play a myriad of games on the device like Clash of clans, Quiz up and what not, and they must have been getting such chat requests. What if they did accept some? They are after all at an age driven by curiosity and a misplaced sense of adventure. A surge of anger swept over me at my stupidity. Honestly, I had assumed that I had taught them enough to recognise danger and come to me at the first inkling of it. That was silly of me. And I think that is the second mistake we make after assuming the limited scope of Internet. It is never enough. We cannot deliver our one time lecture and assume that we have educated them for life.
So, like me, let us assume that you found some chats that were not exactly an emulation of real world relationships, what would you do? How would you carry out the ‘talk?’
Let us first start with the don’ts:
1. Do not make it into a battle of right versus wrong. Give anything a moral flavour and you have lost the battle before you have sent out the first troops.
2. Do not put blanket bans. Bans never work. They just make stuff more desirable. And they make you look like a tyrant.
3. Do not make it about yourself. ‘How could MY child do this?’ ‘Have I taught you this?’ ‘You have failed me as a parent.’ Please. Throw these sentences out and stop feeling sorry for yourself. Your focus is the child, not you.
4. Do not demean. ‘I did not expect this from you?’ ‘How could you be so stupid?’ ‘Have you any brains at all?’ Again, face it. You are the ones losing brains right now, not the child. So do not question the sanity levels.
5. Do not hold a trial. Of course the child has erred. But beginning all sentences with ‘you,’ and ‘your’ makes him or her the criminal. Try using ‘we’ instead.
6. Do not dwell on the fault. Focus on solution instead. Whatever has been done is gone and cannot be undone. Look at this as an excellent opportunity to learn and teach how to fix blunders and not repeat them in future.
7. And for heaven’s sake, do not scream or cry. Yes that happens. I have seen way too many parents completely lose it. Won’t help. All it will do is make sure that the child smartens up enough to properly cover his tracks in future.
Now straight to the Do’s. Although I’ll list the specific things that I conveyed to the boys in another article, there are certain general things that we need to do:
1. Arm yourself with knowledge: Internet, usage patterns, and available apps – everything is changing more rapidly than you and I can keep track, yet we must keep learning. What are the new apps/games that are popular with kids? What are the inherent dangers? How much time are your children spending online? Keep questioning and keep finding answers. For instance, a few seventh-grade children were on the verge of being suspended at a school since they had formed a whatsapp group on cell phones (their parent’s or their own) and were using it to post objectionable content as well as to bully other kids. Honestly, till now, I had never thought of whatsapp as being something we need to bother about.
2. Set boundaries: Free access to Internet via gadgets or computer is unadvisable. There ought to be time limit on usage, and what can it be used for. When we complain that the child spends too much time online, it is us who have let them stretch those boundaries. It is never to late to take charge. And let the computer be in a common area of the house.
3. Use safety softwares: There are tools out there that help you monitor the child’s online activity. Research. Choose software according to your requirement and install. No they are not a breach of trust. We do install locks on the door to keep the world out, right? These are similar locks for the virtual world.
4. Be shockproof: For most parents, growth implies simple gain in height and grade level. And hence, when we chance upon dubious chats or emails, we get shell-shocked. Since we were expecting them to be babies, this new piece of information throws us off balance and we end up wallowing in disbelief which mostly stems from denial. We deny that the fourteen-year-old could be going through surges of sexual energy, or could be clouded with curiosity for the gender of interest. Expect changes. In fact welcome them and help the child address them. Let them know that you are in it with him or her. Half our battle is won if we let them know that we understand.
5. Communicate: So you have spoken to them, taught them the do’s and don’ts of the virtual world, and warned them sufficiently. Don’t just ease up yet. Communication is an ongoing process. We cannot deliver instructions, probably have a one time conversation that ends with the child nodding in agreement, install some mean protection software, and think that our job is done. Keep talking, and be vigilant. However, always remember there is a thin line between conversation and nagging and a thinner one between being vigilant and overbearing.
6. No excuse is enough: A lot of my friends express helplessness over the child’s online life. ‘All his friends are online,’ ‘He/she doesn’t listen,’ and more such excuses are offered. Just because all his friends are online doesn’t mean your child has to get on the bandwagon too. And they don’t listen when we don’t speak clearly enough. Period.
7. Online presence doesn’t ensure IT prowess – Another misconception that a lot of parents hold on to is that a child needs to be active online to be able to become a computer wiz. No such connection. Really. Posting a few selfies online or chatting with random unknown people leads mostly to trouble and no education whatsoever.
It is a scary world out there, especially with Internet enabling people to enter our bedrooms without our knowledge. But it is not all bad and there is no need to let paranoia yank out the modem cable. Internet is a powerful tool if we teach our children to use it responsibly. And responsibility is not learnt in a day.
Originally posted at Momspresso.