I risked entrance into heaven by lying to my daughter when she first entered the cyber world. Back then, we had zero ability to monitor their cyber use. They could go anywhere… say anything… and contact anyone. And like most parents I knew when my kid was in over her head. I could see her going under.
After her first week of unfettered access to the cyber world, she was suddenly depressed, anxious, more easily annoyed by me, her dad, and the dog. But there was no way to help. After taking the phone and giving it back… and taking the phone and giving it back, I did what I felt I had to do…. I lied.
One day as she quickly put her phone away when I entered the room I said, (no… I lied), “Hey… you know that with every phone bill I get I can see your texts and your browsing history?” She paled, then said, “No… I didn’t know that.” I said, “Yeah… and I haven’t been checking… but I will be from now on.” Her entire cyber use and attitude changed instantly.
The good news for todays parents is that they don’t have to lie. There are lots of ways they can monitor their children’s cyber use, and that’s a good thing. The cyber world is real and huge and full of fantastic and terrible opportunities.
As I prepped for a CyberStrong presentation on how to keep our kids safe and strong in the cyber world, I met with Matt. Matt is one of the highly confident tech guys who keep up to date with every product and feature of every device out there, and the good ones can interpret their knowledge to the rest of us. You can find them in Apple stores, at Best Buy sorts of stores, and, like Matt, at cellular stores like Verizon. I mention Verizon because that’s where I met Matt.
I told him about parent after parent of young children who want to introduce the cyber world to their kids but are overwhelmed at the enormity of this world… the possibilities and the dangers. I told him how they fight giving their kids devices for as long as they can…but then its their birthday or Christmas, and they’ve been begging, and the parents want so much to give them some sleek, cool, tech device. They want to see their eyes light up and the begging to stop, and so they give in, and then… the worry and conflicts and loss of parental control begins.
Matt just smiled the way those guys smile. He said he spends his days talking parents down from their cyber ledges. He spoke calmly, like a therapist with all the answers.
He spoke of the phones with parental controls, and the ones that require apps. He spoke of increased awareness of wireless companies to the plight of parents and the concerns for kids.
Matt told me how we can set our kid’s phones to turn off at specific times, like during school and at night. We can see their browsing histories. We can set limits on how much time and data they use. We can access their texts and the phone numbers they call.
Matt showed me gadgets that allow parents to introduce the cyberworld to their younger kids slowly and with a great amount of parental cyber-supervision. These allow them to give kids very limited calling and texting opportunities, with no internet access, and a few games and Fitbit sort of apps built into them. But what is important is that parents can see every bit of access by the kid; ever call, every text, every moment the device is on.
I was talking with this great kid the other day who had one of these. Every time I would say something he thought was dumb, he would push a button and a song would come on for a few seconds. They were funny. But after a few of them his mother, who was at her office miles away, seeing that he was using the device while he was supposed to be talking with me, turned off the device. He just smiled and said, “My mom turned it off,” and we got to work.
It was a wonderful way for his mom to parent him in the cyber world as he slowly gains cyber etiquette and skills.
So, the good news is parents these days don’t have to lie to their kids. The good news is there are Matts out there to help them. The best news is that we are finally starting to know how to help our kids remain strong as they enter the cyber world.
Matt from Verizon will be at our CyberStrong presentation on Monday, May 7th at 6:00 pm at the Mesa County Public Library. For more info go to www.cyberstrong.org/events/cyberstrong-family-program
Matt will share tips and tricks for helping keep your kids safe and strong online.
About the Author
Elizabeth Clark has been a mental health therapist for teens and families for thirty years. She is a presenter for CyberStrong, a collaborative community effort, funded by the Western Colorado Community Foundation, to raise awareness and give skills to parents and educators about the influence of technology on our children, families and community.