Contributed by Gordon Fletcher
What's with children; making our lives sheer joy one moment and utter chaos the next? I can only speak for myself and while I don't want to brag, I was a pretty great kid. I didn't party. I never did drugs. I grew up in the valley and have never smoked weed. Nearly miraculous I know.
Don't get me wrong I am fortunate and have been blessed with some pretty amazing children. Parenting has not been without its challenges, especially in this incredible age of technology. Are there parents out there who ever feel like they are in an episode of Spy vs. Spy when it comes to keeping tabs on their children's online and iPod activity? I don't think I am the only one.
I have learned some great tricks and tips to help parents win this new cold war of technological, familial, espionage and your children will rue the day you read this!
The First Trick has a preface. The greatest obstacle I have found in parenting is unarticulated expectations. I have to let my children know what I expect. We all have a picture in our minds of what nearly everything is, "supposed" to look like. It shows up at work. It shows up in our friendships. It even shows up in our marriages. The hard part is articulating those images of what ought to be.
Let your children know what you expect. It is hard to enforce un-communicated ground rules without embittering your children. Make sure they come to you to ask which applications are appropriate to download, which shows are appropriate to view and educate them on the dangers of shared online information. Come to an agreement with your children on these ground rules so, if and when they violate the rules they not only understand the consequences but you have leverage when the debate begins about what is fair and unfair. If they break the agreed ground rules they will only have themselves to blame for the consequences.
Always inspect what you expect. I don't inspect my children's iPods or check their Netflix viewing routinely. If I did there would be no true litmus test of their integrity. I inspect randomly. Sometimes in the middle of the day and occasionally in the middle of the night. There is no set time for them to hand in their devices for inspection. I check their messages, the history on their web browsing. I inspect new applications and research the function of the new applications.
This second trick accomplishes several things: It tests their integrity, it informs me of data usage and which of my three children consumes the most and above all, it reinforces the ground rules they have agreed to. At this point in reading you may think me to be overbearing and perhaps invasive in my approach and I am okay with that. You set the rules. Whatever system you put in place should match the dynamic of your family. I am sharing what works with mine.
My third trick is simple:
Know your technology. Educate yourself on setting up different user accounts on Netflix. While our family only pays for one subscription of Netflix we have five profiles, one for each member of our family. After setting up the account profiles you have the ability to access the viewing history of each profile. Set up is easy and convenient for each member to access their particular shows. It is also convenient for parents to hold the entire crew accountable on usage and content.
Another technology at our fingertips is Apple's parental controls. Restrictions can be set fairly easily and customized to your particular ground rules. We have ground rules in place that none of our children are to have Snapchat. Any application that deletes the message instantly makes me nervous. It is designed to be a parental bypass and it is prohibited in our house. Facebook, Instagram and message applications are allowed, but not behind closed doors and devices sit on the refrigerator every night before bedtime.
I questioned the integrity of one child because snapchat continued to appear on their iPod. I went into the iPod and set the restrictions to give the ability to download applications but not delete them. My child was downloading the app but deleting it quickly, prior to my random inspections. Needless to say, their desperate attempt to "reset" their iPod on the home computer didn't faze me. I found the app; they lost the privilege of having the iPod because they broke our ground rule agreement. Parental controls are at our disposal, be creative, set a good pass code and hold your crew accountable.
My fourth trick is probably the most difficult:
Give your crew a safe place to fail. While each of my children have failed the technological test a few times, I do not shame them for doing so. I reason with my children by asking them questions directing them back to their own actions and helping them understand the error in their, "thinking", which caused the behavior and lead to a breach in trust.
Our children have to know they can fail at home. While we do not invite intentional failure, we do understand it is an inevitability. Do your best to respond and not react. If you are like me and can be swept away with the emotion of the moment, do yourself and your children a huge favor and process before having that imminently uncomfortable conversation. Plan out your arguments so you can calmly articulate and reinforce those broken expectations. Make sure you convey your love for them more than your disappointment in their actions.
Along with these tricks let me leave you with one thing for consideration:
Know the law and communicate it to your children. We've had the "sexting" conversation with our children. Because technology is readily available, easily accessible and selfies can be sent in a moment’s notice, the legal ramifications are vast.
If an underage individual sends a nude pic via text, messenger, snap chat or any plethora of apps, they have essentially disseminated child pornography. That picture becomes evidence of a serious crime and anyone passing that pic along becomes guilty of disseminating illegal pornographic material. The chain of custody can involve hundreds of unwitting individuals, regardless of how quickly it may be removed from your child's device. Educating your crew about the dangers of sexting, it can save you.
In the long run, we are both the first and the last line of defense in our children's lives. Let us be diligent in the task of preparing this next generation of really decent individuals. Be encouraging, be gentle, be loving, be kind and most of all be cunning, you'll need it!