Last night I sat next to my teenage son as he played video games. It did not take long before I was abruptly reminded that he and I may look like fellow humans but we are definitely from two very different planets. I also learned that there’s a possibility that at times I may (stress on ‘may’) be just a tad pesky in my efforts to keep him safe online.
I learned this as I listened to him talk to people online then casually asked a few questions. Who was he talking to? Where did they live? Before long he asked me politely to “chill on the questions” as he attempted to strategize his comeback as lead zombie killer on the Call of Duty battlefield.
“Mom, I’m not going to tell these people where I live or anything else personal while we are playing online,” he said, controller aimed, animated body parts flying. “That’s just not what you talk about when you are fighting zombies.”
“You may not,” I said casually, squinting at the explosions on the screen. “But some kids do.”
“Yeah, morons,” he replied, unfazed by the zombie to the left of the screen trying to re-stuff his guts.
“No one sets out to get into trouble online, it’s never the plan . . . but it happens,” I said.
He put down his controller—actually suspended all zombie annihilations for 30-60 seconds—and looked me straight in the eye.
“Mom, we were born online, you weren’t. We know what to do and what not to do—you’ve literally tattooed it on my brain. We have better things to do than talk to creeps online. We really just want to have fun, okay?”
“Right. Yeah. Okay.”
Wow. His comments were a clear reminder to me that adjusting my perspective just ten degrees will keep the safety conversation going. And, that yes, we can safeguard them, hope they get it, but—as tempting as it may be—we can’t put them in cages.
The digital landscape we see as parents when we log on—the ways we engage, respond to conflict, and even how we have fun—is extremely different from that of our children. So giving them some elbowroom to have some fun is a good thing.
I was humbled and grateful to be reminded of that. (I confess, I did give myself a private high five for the passionate mini lecture he gave me between Zombie kills, which makes me believe the kid really does get it!)
5 (kind) reminders for overly pesky parents:
1. Kids deserve privacy. Think back. Your parents did not know everything you did growing up—if they did they would have had to follow you around in a car, which isn’t likely. Striking a balance between what you need to know to keep your child safe and honoring his privacy is key as he gets older and you gradually relinquish control.
2. Mistakes are okay. As much as we want to protect our kids with safeguards around every corner online, if we allow them to mess up from time to time, we will find amazing teaching opportunities that will make them wiser.
3. Mobile is the hangout. While many adults may be online to socially “network,” kids are actually online to have fun and simply socialize with friends. Again: different planets, different agendas. Chances are your child may meet new people from time to time online but many of the people he connects with will be his friends from school. Instagram is to them what the mall, chess club, or burger joint was to you growing up—the “space” you developed and learned to interact in your sphere of influence.
4. Moderation matters. Yes, it’s their safety online we are talking about (no one takes that more seriously than McAfee). Still, balancing your concern about online dangers with your trust that your child is actually listening and learning will only strengthen his online chops.
5. Fun is awesome. On planet mobile, life for kids is actually fun—much more fun than parents seem to be having online. We can’t forget that. They spend countless (harmless) hours sharing funny videos and photos, playing games against each other, and researching things that interest them.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter McAfee_Family. (Disclosures).