Last week, I spoke with Tim Woda, the co-founder of uknowKids.com, looking for his advice on how to keep children safe growing up in the digital age. We also spoke about parent engagement, getting parents to understand that it's okay to monitor their children's online conversations with friends. Our parents did it. We can as well.
Woda: There is a misconception amongst parents -- they confuse being aware with being engaged. Ten years ago, being aware was often enough to keep our kids safe online. Today, that's not enough. I hear things from parents like, "I wouldn't want to monitor my child's Facebook account because that's a violation of their privacy." When you take a step back, you have to ask yourself, is that really a private environment? You're posting on the Web where it is accessible to a billion people. It can be copied and pasted and shared with anyone in the world. This isn't like their diary that they're sliding under their bed.
TL: I have that conversation all the time - about how the Internet is not a diary, how it is a neighborhood. I talk about how parents have to take a much more involved, active role.
Woda: The analogy I always give is that when we were kids, there was a family phone. My parents knew who I was talking to, when I was talking to them and generally what we were talking about -- since I was in the living room. Today, parents have duped themselves into thinking that because the phone is portable, the kids are now entitled to complete and total privacy.
TL: The other takeaway on that is that by the very nature of where the phone was located, there were time restrictions of when you were on it. Now, a girl has a cell phone and she and her boyfriend might exchange 500 messages every week or so. To her that's ok -- and a number of parents who I talk to say that that isn't unusual or stunning. Kids used to be able to sit back and evaluate relationships after some time has passed being away from the person they are with -- they no longer have that gap in time. Their relationships are more ever-present and much more difficult to deal with in their lives.
Woda: I think you hit the nail on the head. The technologies of our generation -- the family phone and the front door -- were the access points to relationships. They created governors on the behaviors of children. It's a problem and we as parents have some misconceptions that we need to come to grips with. As parents, we parent based on the lessons we learned being parented. There weren't cell phones or gaming devices. We're feeling our way through this as digital immigrants as our kids are the digital natives. We just need to be better prepared for the next generation of kids.
TL: My question -- what do you say to parents when they say they're not doing anything wrong? How do you move them from what you think might be a dangerous position to parenting in the digital age?
Woda: Parents don't have to ask for permission to be parents. They were given that permission slip the day their child was born. They certainly don't need to ask for permission to parent from the people they're responsible for parenting.
We hear too often, too many times, "My son would be upset with me if I wanted to be his friend on Facebook or monitor or phone. My son won't give me his Facebook password." Yet mom and dad continue to buy them Internet access and phone plans. If these type of parenting wrestling matches occurred in any other phase of parenting life, they'd never stand for it.
Set the boundaries, set the expectations. It's your child's job to adhere to those expectations. It is your job to be in tune enough to understand when it is time to expand their independent use of technology. It is not your child's role to define your role in their digital life.