In a society where most of our us, adults and children alike, own more than two handheld devices, technology is making an enormous impact on the way we interact and communicate. For families, the impact is felt most profoundly in the home. While one family could be physically together in one room, each member could be in different cyber worlds due to their devices. As a result, this shift of how we socialize and communicate has prompted significant changes in the ways we monitor children’s behavior. Last Thursday, our Middle School was very fortunate to host speaker Dr. Tracy Navon Pinshow who addressed this very issue of how to raise online children.
Dr. Pinshow Navon promotes the establishment of parental presence as authority. She defines authority not as a totalitarian dictatorship, yet authority whereby children feel safe and secure with “soft, empathetic boundaries.” She recognizes how difficult it is for parents to fully gauge what kids are doing on the internet, and the struggle to keep up with the “media tsunami” of new sites and gadgets. Considering such challenges, it is important for parents to find the middle ground – to set boundaries which will enable safe use and exploration. Dr. Pinshow Navon uses the metaphor of parents being the anchor in the midst of the media tsunami. Children want to know their parents are in control. While the key to parental empowerment is self control – the choice to be a controlled, non-escalatory presence in our children’s lives.
Dr. Pinshow Navon reviewed three important keys to establishing parental authority: awareness, knowledge and vigilant care. In terms of awareness, it is important that parents keep abreast of technologies available and what children are currently using. The easiest way to know what kids are talking about is by simply asking them to show you what their using. Knowledge involves understanding your child’s usage and determining whether a serious problem exists. Key factors of which to be vigilant are mood changes in your teen, change in sleep patterns, lack of family contact and participation in activities. The third and most important way to establish parental authority is by parental presence and vigilant care which can be enabled through open dialogue and focussed questioning. It is important for parents to express to children your parental responsibility and obligation to intervene and monitor. Prior to meeting with your child, Dr. Pinshow Navon suggests that parents plan questions, consider the time and place of the meeting, create scripts for the child’s different responses and consider one’s reactions to each response. In this way, parents can preempt their reactions and avoid escalation.
In establishing parental presence, Dr. Pinshow Navon emphasizes the difference between monitoring and spying. Traditional monitoring includes questioning, having an open bedroom door policy and screen “peaks” or shoulder-surfing, while digital forms of monitoring include establishing an online presence (i.e. by “friending” your child), and regularly reviewing your child’s browser capabilities and history. Spying, on the other hand, is secretive. In order to maintain trust with your adolescent it is essential to inform them of the fact you are monitoring their online behaviour.
Many parents struggle with the question of whether or not they are invading their child’s privacy. Dr. Pinshow Navon makes the point that privacy is not a supreme right. It is a parental obligation to be present and monitor our children’s activities. As we wouldn’t let our children loose in the streets of Wanchai, nor should we let them loose on the internet. We need to provide guidance and boundaries. She advocates that knowing children’s passwords should be simple parental protocol. While some children will be resistant, we need to express how it is our parental obligation to monitor their use. In recent cyber-bullying cases, parents have been legally liable for their child’s actions on the internet. By informing children that you require passwords and that you will be monitoring, parents can avoid escalation when issues arise.
Dr. Pinshow Navon reminded us of the importance of modeling no-screen behaviour to encourage interaction within the family. Establishing a family “no screen time” will pave the way for alternative forms of entertainment such as sports, board games, music and reading. In this age where we all suffer from some symptoms of digital ADD, now, more than ever, there is a strong need for parental awareness, knowledge and most importantly, presence.