Rob Zidar believes in teaching his sons to act responsibly, rather that attempting, perhaps in vain, to prevent them from acting irresponsibly.
I often wonder who my kids are going to be when they grow up.
As a parent, I face a lot of choices. One of those choices is how involved I choose to be in the online activity of my boys, who are now 14 and 15 years old. Their ages are significant because other than needing rides everywhere, they are far more self sufficient than I would have thought possible five years ago. This is especially true when it comes to online activity. They have their own computers and cell phones and we’ve chosen not to install monitoring or filtering software. Their laptops can be in their bedrooms if the homework is done. Their internet is wide open.
Some people think that my stance on this is controversial or just plain wrong but I don’t. Parents who think they are on top of what their teens are doing online often really aren’t. According to a survey of 2,474 youths and parents funded by software maker McAfee, 69% of teens admit to hiding internet activity from their parents, while only 47% of parents are aware of this happening.
I do not find the above stat surprising. Given the fact that my boys have their own devices, if they want to find inappropriate content or do sketchy things on the internet they will, and maybe already have. If I lock down their devices with tracking software, they can just go to a friend’s house to do what they were planning to do. Our choice is to teach them to act responsibly rather that attempting, perhaps in vain, to prevent them from acting irresponsibly. We’d prefer to have a positive impact on their internet activity than attempt to censor it.
There are four main pillars that I rely on to make sure that I’m not making a bad parenting decision on this:
The three Cs: Contact, content and conduct – (i) Since a young age, we’ve impressed upon our kids the fact that there are bad people out there who might try to make contact with you. Be wary. (ii) In terms of content, they might want to look at inappropriate stuff. Some content is just plain inappropriate, and for some there is a time and a place. Know the difference and be careful. (iii) They might be tempted to say or do bad things to others. Not acceptable.
Right and wrong – Parents can’t get unsupervised internet access right without making sure their kids know the difference between right and wrong. Bullying, sexual assault, racism, stalking and badmouthing schools and teachers are all still wrong. The fact that it may be more difficult for parents and teachers to see it online doesn’t make it any less wrong. Doing something positive for someone, even if it is sometimes uncool to do so online, is still good.
The dad factor – My relationship with my boys is much different that that of my wife. If our parental relationship with our boys is a normal distribution with total goofing around in the left tail, laying down the law in the right tail, and just spending regular family time in the middle, fat part of the curve, I spend more time in the tails and my wife does more of the middle. I don’t mind laying down the law, and will do so if the boys get out of line.
My last point goes back to the first sentence of this post and may be the most important consideration – who are my kids going to be when they grow up. I hope that they end up being who they want to be. Healthy discovery is a very important part of the education and maturing process, and there is a lot of content worth discovering online. All of their friends are online. With some exceptions that I hope I established up front, I don’t want to tell them what or who is fun or interesting online any more than I want to tell them who to be friends with or who to date.
I do need them to behave and perform in school, be nice to others and keep inappropriate content out of the public eye and away from younger siblings. I need them to be good people. I want them to be happy.
photo: gabrielap93 / flickr