When it comes to technology and our kids, parents tend to run up the white flag of surrender ("I can't keep up!") or build up the wall of protection ("I will make sure my kids are safe!").
I've done both. First I tried to build a wall that would keep the bad stuff out and keep my kids out of the bad stuff! So, I attacked the problem with all my technology expertise. I leveraged two decades of software expertise, hardware know-how, and coding to build the best wall to protect my two sons.
Here's what I discovered: I couldn't build a wall big enough. Why? Because there is no such thing as an ironclad solution. Anyone who says differently is selling something. Every wall I built, I could find a way past and if I can get past it, so can my sons. I can tell you right now, trying to protect your kids through filters and systems won't be enough. Guaranteed.
On the other hand, I've been tempted to stick my head in the sand. We've worked hard to raise our boys "right," So if we tell them what they are not allowed to do, they won't do it, right? Tell that to the candy corn that mysteriously disappears (No, it wasn't me. Honest.) If something as small as "no candy unless you ask first" gets violated when no one is looking, what else is going on? So, you see, I can't just pretend nothing is happening or going to happen.
For the sake of our kids, let's talk straight for a moment.
- This isn't just a boy problem. People tend to think that pornography is the only bad thing out there and it only affects males. That's not the case. The average age a student (regardless of gender) gets exposed to porn of some type is now somewhere around eight years old! That affects how girls see themselves and how boys see girls.
- Cyber-bullying is easy, cruel, and common. It has led to multiple suicides and means that your child cannot escape bullying even when at home.
- Students report being badgered by peers for inappropriate pictures. "Sexting," which is sending nude or sexually suggestive photos, is on the rise. Reportedly, 25% of teens have participated in sexting while 57% have been pressured to participate.
But the scariest trend that I've seen has to do with how they interact in a digital world.
The digital world is a place for fake people. From manufacturing the perfect picture on Instagram to trashing someone in the comments technology can allow your student to be someone they are not (because no one is perfect or perfectly happy!). And act in a way they would not (because no one would say those things to someone else's face). They can find their sense of accomplishment, their sense of community, and their outlet for their frustrations in this toxic environment.
To sum up, we are raising a generation of constantly-connected, tech-savvy students who lead double lives within easy reach of every vice known to man. Freaked out yet?
Don't despair. There is hope. It just isn't sticking your head in the sand or building a wall. Technology cannot be avoided or ignored. Instead, let's talk about how we can embrace reality and use technology as a platform to parent even better than we could before.
In my experience, there are three things that every parent can do to successfully address technology with their kids. They are:
- Be your child's technology copilot. Know what they are doing (have them teach you if you don't understand) and maintain access to the keys (accounts, passwords, etc.) Don't be a spy. Be a visible partner.
- Maintain clear boundaries for technology use. Tech in the bedroom, especially at night, is a poor decision. That's like keeping a stash of your favorite cookies in the nightstand when you're on a diet. We all know that your self-control would fail eventually!
- Use issues as teaching opportunities. Finding out your child was exposed to something inappropriate, did something inappropriate or they are friends with someone who did something inappropriate can trigger a "freak out" reaction. Don't let it. Use the opportunity to teach the "why" behind the rule.
Our job as parents is to help guide our children to maturity. They don't come mature out of the box. There is some assembly required. When it comes to technology, that means being present, proactive, and engaged.
That has very little to do with how tech-savvy you are. Tech options like Circle can help you maintain boundaries, but the biggest impact you can have on your child will come from you being a part of their world.
That may mean having them teach you how to play silly, confusing games now, but later when you are there for "the incident," you will have a voice into their world. And if you get overwhelmed, lost or unsure of how best to proceed, don't forget that you aren't alone. Ask someone in Family Ministry for help or leave a comment below.
Written by Tim Corey, 9th Grade Boys Small Group Leader at Parker Hill Church