Natives to the Internet
Decisions. Choices. Mistakes. Lessons. These come in all shapes and situations and all have some
form of outside influences. Teens are faced with making choices and the corresponding consequences almost on a daily basis. As natives to the internet, their exposure to the world is far greater than ours was at their age, and therefore they have some pretty tough choices to make. Parents ability to limit exposure to things is almost removed completely. Again it is a time for communication and trust (are you ready? Blatant plug: check out Parenting Prac #10Days2TeenTalk )
A dominating ‘friend’ or bully at school is not a new concept to any generation of the teenager. The difference these days is the accessibility of bullying, bitchiness and backstabbing is right THERE!
On their phones, on their computers. Keyboard cowards (as they should be known) can be just about anyone these days and so our teens must learn how to deal with it all. 'Unsocial' media comes down to basic manners, manners that are taught and tolerated in the home. Playing nicely in the sandpit as a four-year-old is the same lesson as playing nicely in cyberspace as a fourteen-year-old. They might just need a reminder occasionally. Sounds easy? Well, it is not always.
Lurking in the Internet
I am not going to go into depths of the dangers of the internet: we are bombarded by stories in the media and you would have to have been living under a rock to not know of the dangers. But please keep things in context. Have the discussion on cyber safety. You may be surprised how savvy your kids are about protecting themselves already. Talk about the realities of 'groomers' and 'predatory behaviours' so they can identify red flags if they come across them. Remember our lessons in 'Stranger Danger' when we were kids? It is the same thing. Know your child, be vigilant to anything that may indicate something might not quite be right and gently but firmly enquire. Explain it is out of your love for them that you will ALWAYS want to protect them. I tell my teens all the time that it is my right as their mum to be concerned for their safety and wellbeing. They moan and groan but secretly love to know that I care. For more on bullying, see Friend or Foe page.
Grasp on Reality
Influences from the outside can also include music, movies, and games. However, I firmly believe that these things should not be considered as dangerous as some may like us to believe. I like to give my teenagers a bit of credit to distinguish between reality and make-believe. Are they going to end up worshipping the devil if they listen to heavy metal music? Get real! What is far more damaging to a young person’s self-esteem is the unrealistic body image message society perpetuates at every turn, sometimes in our very homes, and the inequality of women that is still ripe in our world.
Measure your freak-out
There are some pretty awful things happening in our world; there always have been. But with instant media as we have now, we are exposed to far more than ever before. It can make any parent want to take their kids, wrap them in cotton wool and NEVER let them out of our safe homes again…
But remember when the world was this great big exciting place full of opportunities, experiences, and adventure? The 'risk taking period' is what I would prefer to view as the adventurous period that gives them the courage to go forth and explore this amazing world before the fear of it sets in. Can we protect them from something that happens overseas? No. Not any more than we can protect them from something happening as they go down to the local shops. So we need to let them live, no matter how much it makes our blood run cold.
I know for many parents, the growth defect that is the smart phone (as it seems to be an extension of their hands) and the persistent headphones in their ears is a huge concern. But again, I challenge you to consider why it worries you. There is fighting against something that you 'don't like' and then there is dealing with a situation in a mature, calm fashion. Have some rules and boundaries about phone and laptop usage. Be a good role model for the use of these - no point in telling the teens to put their phones down when you are on yours. These tools that technology has blessed us with (?) are a reality. Perhaps the focus should be on using the equipment responsibly or to our advantage. I have had some pretty serious conversations via text with my teens which would have ended very differently if we had been using verbal communications. I have been able to know where my kids are by calling them. I have been able to 'rescue' them from hairy situations because they could contact me.
Teaching them keeps them Safe
As we have not grown up with this technology it can seem very scary. I have talked to my teens a lot about what scares me about their access to the world wide web (let me iterate here: MY fears about their access), and I am usually met with the scornful look on the face and a "I am not that stupid".
Give credit where credit is due. Many schools run some pretty intensive educational units on cyber safety and there are some great public service outlets that have some valuable information as well.
But just remember that most teenagers are not stupid and use their phones for nothing more sinister than collecting memes (....don't ask). The best way to make sure your teens are safe is to teach them to use technology safely.
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