Fall Editorial: CyberParenting By Hilary Williamson (September 2008)
In this third millennium, parents are often overwhelmed - even intimidated - by childraising challenges. We want to instil good values, encourage critical thinking, and continue to protect our kids as they grow up. Nowadays we do this in an environment of extreme information overload, where both opportunities and threats can arise from what often seem like obscure and inexplicable sources.
Constantly bombarded by dire warnings, encouraged to keep computers in public areas in the home, and invest in all kinds of Big Brother software, what's a concerned parent to do? Becoming informed on the issues seems like a good place to start. In Protect Your Child on the Internet, John Lenardon does a good job of outlining the Internet's value and its hazards, as an aid to making 'the Internet a safe and educational place for your children'. He recommends that parents Trust their children but Verify their safety, and explains how to do so.
Fiction can be just as informative. The following two YA novels give a feel for what life is like for modern young people immersed in technology. In ttyl, Lauren Myracle builds a story out of instant messages between three friends, bringing out the imperfections - and opportunity for misunderstandings - of communicating online. And in Snapshots, Paul W. Buchanan develops a story around one of parents' worst fears - a young woman starts going out with men she meets on the Internet, and then goes missing.
Understanding some of the dangers, the question arises, how far should we go in protective actions? Before establishing draconian Internet rules for your household, have a look at Rhett Godfrey's Teen Code, on how to have an effective dialog about such issues. It emphasizes that parents need to really listen and that teens deserve their privacy. After all trust is a precious element on both sides of our relationships, hard to regain once lost. Teen Code quotes Dr. Ruth Peters saying 'You don't ever snoop unless the kid has drawn first blood' and only if it matters profoundly.
As is often the case, fiction gets to the heart of the matter. Harlan Coben's Hold Tight is a gripping thriller that parents will find both terrifying and thought-provoking. Worried about his son's recent behavior changes, one father installs spy software to monitor computer activity. There are three situations in Hold Tight. In one case, monitoring would have saved a teen life, in another lack of trust risks several lives, while in a third a totally unpredictable situation arises. As most parents learn, there are no global answers - to cyberparenting or childraising in general. We can often only do our best while we hold tight those we love.
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