Tune in When Your Kids are Logged On
- Whitney Hopler Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2008 19 Aug
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Vicki Courtney's book, Logged On and Tuned Out: A Non-Techie’s Guide to Parenting a Tech-Savvy Generation, (B&H Publishing Group, 2008).
The rapidly changing technology your kids use may baffle you. But it’s a vital part of their lives, and if you don’t know who they’re talking to and what they’re saying on their computers and cell phones, you can’t guide them or protect them from danger. So to be an engaged and caring parent, you need to enter their digital world yourself.
Here’s how you can tune in when your kids are logged on:
Be their parent instead of their buddy. Your kids need you to give them rules and boundaries for dealing with technology. Step up to the responsibility God has given you to guide and protect your kids, even when that makes you unpopular with them. There are too many dangers out there to just look the other way when your kids use technology; you must constantly stay on top of how they’re using it. Just as you wouldn’t think of having them drive without first learning the rules of the road, you shouldn’t consider letting them onto the information superhighway without guidance, either, so they don’t become a hazard to themselves and others.
Keep an open mind. It’s unreasonable to ban your teens completely from technology, since it’s such an important way for them communicate with friends, and since they’ll need to be familiar with the latest technology to succeed once they leave home. While you do need to gauge each of your kids’ maturity levels before getting them cell phones and computer screen names, you can’t put it off forever. Remember that technology itself isn’t bad; it’s simply how people use technology that determines either good or evil results.
Commit your time. Be willing to invest the time necessary to guide your kids well once they start using computers and cell phones, so they have the benefit of wisdom right from the start. Make it a priority to regularly monitor the ways your kids use technology. Be proactive about finding out what’s going on rather than just reacting to something going wrong. There’s too much at stake to shirk your responsibility to be constantly involved with your kids’ use of technology.
Install an Internet safety filter. Make sure that you install a filter on every computer to which your kids have access. Doing so will protect them from many dangerous sites.
Install monitoring software. This will give you an ongoing record of all their online activity that you can review regularly. Emphasize to them that you’re not using the software to stalk their every movement, but just to stay informed so you can help them should any problems arise.
Help them instant message wisely. Tell your kids never to instant message strangers; add people they don’t personally know to their buddy lists; click through on links others may send them; accept invitations to go to public chat rooms; or type something that they wouldn’t say to someone face-to-face; or that would bring dishonor to God. Remind your kids that everything they type becomes permanent because it can be stored indefinitely on computer hard drives – even if they delete it from their own computer. Urge them to think before they type.
Set up your own screen name and put your kids on your buddy list so you can use instant messaging to communicate with each other sometimes for fun. But never instant message your kids’ friends; let the friends contact you first if they would like to instant message with you. Also remember these guidelines for instant messaging: Don’t use all capital letters (that’s considered yelling), be brief, be patient while you wait for people to answer your messages, and always say goodbye before logging off.
Help them use cell phones wisely. Carefully consider how you’d like your teens to use their cell phones, and choose the features and calling plan that offers the best rates for the ways and times your teens will use their phones. Clearly communicate your rules so your kids don’t run up unexpectedly high bills. Explain cell phone etiquette to your kids so they don’t disturb others when talking on their phones. Urge them to never use their cell phones while driving so they don’t risk their own or other people’s safety.
Help them use social networking sites wisely. Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are an important part of how teens stay in touch with their friends. The profiles your kids create there, the photos and videos they upload, the blogs they write, and the messages they post are all windows into their souls – which is good for you to learn more about what matters most to them, but bad if they share too much private information and attract attention from dangerous people.
Work with your kids as they create their profiles, and visit their site regularly to see what changes they’ve made and how other people have commented on their site. Encourage your kids to list true friends – not just acquaintances – on their friends’ list, and not to rank people in order of preference. Urge them to be selective about which groups they either join or create. While groups can be an effective way for them to express their values, they can also come back to haunt them years later if teachers, coaches, potential employers, or others see that they participated in unwholesome groups.
Require your kids to give you their log on information and passwords so you can access their sites if you should ever need to do so. Have your kids promise never to upload new photos or videos to their sites without your prior approval, because all it takes is just one questionable photo or video to permanently damage their reputations. Also encourage them to use good judgment when having their picture taken by others, since others may post photos of them online at any time. Make sure that your kids never list their last names, address, phone numbers, e-mails, or instant messaging screen names on their profiles. Have them set their profile page to private so the general public can’t view it. Encourage your kids to use their pages to shine a light for Christ online.
Avoid addictions. Make sure that your kids don’t spend too much time online. Consider having a computer curfew every night, and a rule that they can’t get online each day until their homework is done first. Carve out plenty of time for them to build face-to-face relationships and build strong in-person social skills. Limit their time talking and texting on their cell phones, too, if it’s causing them neglect other parts of their lives.
Encourage them to be true to their identities. Don’t let your kids hide behind their computers and pretend to be people they’re not. Urge them to be completely honest about who they really are instead of projecting an image of someone they’d like to be. Discuss how their true identities are rooted in the reality of God’s love for them rather than anything less than that.
Discuss the dangers of cyberbullying with them. Encourage your kids to treat other kids online the way they would like to be treated themselves, and to speak up for kids who are being victimized by others using the Internet as a forum to bully them.
Prepare them to resist pornography. The sad truth is that, despite all the parental controls you can possibly put into place, it may just be a matter of time before your kids stumble across some porn online. Regularly explain to your kids why it’s damaging to view porn, and teach them to shield themselves from inappropriate images they might unexpectedly encounter.
Help them avoid predators. Regularly remind your kids to be careful about what information they give out online. Teach them to guard their privacy, and never respond to messages from people they don’t know.
Adapted from Logged On and Tuned Out: A Non-Techie’s Guide to Parenting a Tech-Savvy Generation, copyright 2007 by Vicki Courtney. Published by B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tn., www.bhpublishinggroup.com.
Vicki Courtney is the founder of Virtuous Reality Ministries® which reaches more than 150,000 girls and mothers a year. A mother herself of three teens, she seeks to provide both teens and their parents with the tools necessary to navigate today’s promiscuous culture. She has done hundreds of radio and newspaper interviews and appeared on CNN, Fox News, and CNN Headline News to discuss issues impacting teens. She is the creator of VirtuousReality.com, an online magazine for teen girls, which has attracted visitors from all 50 states and more than 30 countries. She is a national speaker to women of all ages and the best-selling author of numerous books. Vicki resides in Austin, Texas with her husband, Keith and three children, Ryan, Paige and Hayden.