I post a lot about kids online and Growing Up Online Series. Recently, after going on my media tour with Symantec on their new Parental Control Software, my mind was opened to a bunch of new issues and their solutions…please read on:
1) Curiosity vs. Obsession
Many parents have found their kids on a porn website and pro-anorexia site and has freaked out. Before breaking out the handcuffs and throwing the computer out the window, I think there needs to be a distinction between what is simple adolescent curiosity and what is a real problem. I am just going to say it, I do not think a teenager checking out a porn site once or twice is that big of a deal. We have all wondered…there becomes an issue when it becomes a habit. No matter if it is once or 100 times, either way parents should talk to their kids about what they have seen. Your kid might be more disturbed by what they saw than you know, and you need to be there for them.
One of the members of the Norton Online Family Advisory Council made a wonderful point about the intention of what your kids are searching for or how they got to a bad site. Often times children and kids will often mistype or click accidentally on a website that happens to take them to somewhere inappropriate. Then, if the parent checks the web history or has a spyware product (Review of Parental Control Software), they freak out and punish the child. I ask that you try to find out what your child’s intention was going to that site or carrying out their behavior online. This holds true for Cyberbullying, posting on social networks and cursing on IM chats…why, this can greatly affect the punishment, consequence or outcome.
3) Forensic Parents
Marian Merritt, of Symantec, told a great story about when she saw that her daughter had accidentally visited a voyeur porn site. Like a detective, she used her the Norton parental control software to work backwards to figure out what had happened before freaking out. Her daughter, 14, had searched “Bride Wars” into Google. This had taken her to Youtube. There she watched a number of videos and trailers for the movie. Then, in one of the comments, someone had posted a link that said “if you like these clips, check out this one!” This link took her to a porn site. After this, Marian went to talk to her and her daughter was relieved (but never would have come to her on her own) and was upset about what she saw. She actually asked Marian to turn on the blockers for those sites in the future. Often times, kids do not want to go on those forbidden sites as much as you do not want them to.
4) Facebook is the new Playground
I am often asked by freaked out parents if they could just ‘unplug’ the internet and not allow their kids online to avoid all the dangers. This is not realistic. 20 years ago, parents could prevent their children from going on the playground to avoid a bully, but this would have taught their kids resilience, or how to handle it if and when they were bullied. Teaching kids to measure that uncomfortable feeling in the pit of their stomach, ask for help when they need it and where to ask needs to be learned by letting them live a little online. Resilience is key.
5) Protect Them and Tell Them
I had a teen client go to college recently and get a new computer. Within a few weeks it was totally unusable because of a virus that had been downloaded. When we asked the teen why they had clicked on some of these unreliable downloads, he said that in the past he had done it and nothing had happened. This is because his parents, being awesome parents, had always either blocked dangerous popups with parental control software and/or had really great virus protection on their computer, but they never told him! It has always been done for him and so when he was on his own, he learned the hard way. If you are protecting your kids or your computer, let them know hat you are doing and how you are doing it so they do not take it for granted!
The majority of kids do not want to do bad things online. They want to play games, share pictures and watch silly Youtube videos. Know the intention if something goes wrong, try to work backwards and always work on teaching resilience and self-reliance in the online world. Parenting and going online are no longer separate, they are one in the same.