We, the current generation of parents, are pioneers. We are leading future generations into territory that, in the history of parenting, no other generation has had to explore. We are Charles Lindbergh, Neil Armstrong, Jacques Cousteau and Christopher Columbus. Except instead of going out on wild adventures and coming back to inspire our kids with the tales of our exploits, we are letting our kids commandeer the vehicle while we try to shout instructions from the curb.
I’m talking about today’s technology. Our generation’s parents did not have to deal with this. The toughest technological argument they had to respond to was, “Why can’t we sign up for touch-tone service? It’s so not fair! None of my friends have to wait this long to dial nines and zeroes!”
The world is different now. And we are the first generation of parents to be raising kids in this different world. We also seem to be the first generation of parents who have completely forgotten that we still have the authority and the responsibility to set healthy boundaries for our kids in this dangerous world. It appears to me that the general rule of thumb is to let our kids have the technology because their friends have it and we can’t avoid it anyway and we’re sure they’ll be fine.
We cannot bury our heads in the sand on this. Let us forge our way into this new territory boldly, bravely and wisely.
Take Facebook, for example. Facebook has a minimum age of 13 for its users. Sure, there are some kids who could probably handle the responsibility earlier than that, and there are some who should wait a bit longer. You, as the parent, have the rightful authority to keep your child out of the social networking realm until they mature some more. You, as the parent, should also be the one to firmly put your foot down in respecting the user age set by Facebook.
Helping or allowing your child to fudge their age undermines your authority and blurs the picture of integrity that you should be trying to exemplify for your children. There is a moral problem in teaching your kids that it’s okay to pick and choose which rules they want to follow based on whether or not they like those rules. If you purposely break these rules with your kids and still expect them to obey rules that you set, this double-standard will eventually bite you in the backside.
Beyond the legalism, though, let’s look at the logic. The Internet contains a lot of fun, safe and educational things. But it also contains a lot of dangerous, sinister and downright evil things. The latter are often disguised as the former, and it’s difficult to distinguish the two even for adults. The sooner you let your children loose on the worldwide web, the sooner you introduce them to danger. The more unsupervised access you allow them, the more susceptible you are making them to other people’s evil intentions.
We cannot be naïve or passive about this. If you want to let your children make poor choices in life so they can learn from their mistakes, let them eat too much candy or go to school without mittens or jump off a swing.
The Internet is not a safe place to let them test their wings.
There are bullies and stalkers and predators actively searching for your precious babies. There is violent content aimed at piercing young hearts. There is pornography that is one click away from stealing your angels’ innocence and trapping them in addiction. And the marketing…merciful heavens, the marketing! There are ads on almost every existing website and they are targeted at convincing your children that they cannot possibly be happy without this new gadget and that new toy and all of these upgrades and add-ons.
All of that is right there, growling and seething like attack dogs, waiting for you to let your children come out and play. And there is no one else in the world who is going to step in and protect your kids if you don’t. You are the barrier – the only one holding back the dogs.
So please, be that barrier. If your ten-year-old wants a Facebook account, tell him no. If your eight-year-old wants to sit and watch youtube videos unsupervised, tell her no. If your twelve-year-old wants to follow questionable characters (“stars” though they may be) on Twitter, tell him no.
And stick to it.
You need to be vigilant. The phone you let them use is your phone and you have full access to everything they do on there. The laptop you let them use is your laptop and you have full access to everything they use it for. The internet connection they use is your internet connection and you have full access to track and restrict where they go. Because these are your children.
I know you can’t control all of it. They will go to friends’ houses and school and they will likely work hard to escape your scrutiny. But don’t let that be an excuse to not scrutinize. Tell them over and over again why the boundaries are in place. Talk about safe internet practices. Have parental controls on your home connections. Check the sites that they are visiting.
Yes, they’ll probably think you are overbearing, archaic and malicious. But that’s just the joy of parenting. So let’s do it well, for Pete’s sake. And Sarah’s sake. And Caleb’s sake. And Emily’s sake…