Yesterday, I was speaking with a school principal after I finished a Cyber Safety Workshop for her 150 5th graders at her elementary school. We were discussing how important this education is for her students, and how disappointed she was at the lack luster turn out for the parent workshop I did the prior week.
“Every parent of every child in your class should have been there last week,” she exclaimed.
We only had about 25 parents show up to the well-publicized workshop. This kind of turn out is not unusual. If by sheer coincidence, there was a cyberbullying incident at the school just before my workshop, we would have had a packed room. Interesting, the parents who do attend the workshop are blown away, and insist we schedule another workshop next month so they can get the word out. They can think of 10 parents who need to be at that workshop. The second class is usually better attended. Parents are tired and overworked. I should know, being a parent of two boys, 12 and 14-years-old. But, why aren’t parents attending a class that will help them make the Internet and social media a safer place for their child? After investigating thousands of cyber related crimes and other incidents, I have discovered that most parents are living under false assumptions about the Internet and their children’s part in it.
Lie #1. It is not that big of a deal. The National Crime Prevention Council reported that more than 80 percent of students surveyed said they either do not have any set boundaries about what they can do online by their parents, or know how to easily get around them. Nearly 100 percent of parents that I talk to after I learn about an issue with their child’s online activity, have no idea what is going on in their child’s online world. They gave their teen or tween a smart phone with no parental controls or restrictions. They are flabbergasted to find their child has created multiple social media accounts, victim or perpetrator of cyberbullying, viewing pornography, interacting with adult strangers, or send nude images of themselves to others. Unless your child is living in a gang-infested neighborhood, an unsupervised Internet is the most dangerous place for your child to be.
Lie #2. If my child was having a problem online, they would tell me. In a report from the Cyber Bullying Research Center, only 1 in 10 children will tell their parent if they are the victim of cyber abuse. Why do only 1 in 10 teens feel comfortable enough to tell their parent about being a victim of cyberbullying? The answer is simple: They are afraid of losing their phone or access to their social networks. Teens would rather suffer through being bullied than lose their vital connection to all their friends. How can we turn that statistic around?
We need to make children feel safe to come to us and tell us about problems they encounter online. I teach parents to do this by using my Mobile Device and Internet Usage Contract. I instruct parents to go through the contract with their children, and tell them if they come to them immediately about an issue, they will not get punished. If they hide it, and don’t tell their parent right away, they get the full set of consequences discussed in the contract.
Lie #3: This technology thing is too much for me, I’ll never understand it. Parents are busy working, getting their kids to and from sporting events, and putting a hot meal on the table. The thought of having to take on one more task, as daunting as learning how to operate their child’s electronics, makes them want to throw their hands in the air in surrender. The bad news: If you care about your child’s safety, you must learn a thing or two about your child’s electronic devices. The good news: there are a lot of good resources out there to help.
My website has a blog full of helpful information about popular apps your child wants to download on to their device, but shouldn’t.
I wrote a book, Parenting in a Digital World, which will be released in July, 2015. It will take you step-by-step through each of your child’s mobile devices, computers, and game consoles, and show you how to turn on the hidden parental controls that will help keep your child safe. You will also get invaluable tips on the Usage Contract, managing screen time, and what to do if your child is being bullied or victimized online.