Setting and enforcing rules — especially online safety ones — can feel close to impossible at times. But there are a few hacks that have helped me stay the course. Like the four Cs, for instance: Consistency, calm, courage, and confession.
Consistency helps in setting and enforcing rules, being calm comes in handy when an argument escalates, courage keeps me keep going when I want to quit the whole parenting thing, and confession helps me apologize to my kids the times I’m in the wrong.
Note that I haven’t mastered these Four Cs — or even a few of them — but they’ve each served me well as I attempt to monitor devices, set tech limits, and handle digital messes along the way.
Monitoring (and enforcing family rules in general) can feel like a chore or even a battle at times but stay the course, parents, because it matters. The alternative is no rules and no consistency — which in a child’s mind can send the message that he or she isn’t loved or cared for.
And the most important reason to discipline, any parenting expert will tell you is to teach kids self-control. By imposing rules and limits, eventually (you hope), your child will understand the importance of imposing them on him or herself, which is a huge step toward healthy adulting.
Just recently I had to apologize to my daughter for lecturing her via text. In the past, I’ve taught her that important discussions be done in person. By using one of my Cs — confession — I salvaged a family rule, showed humility, strengthened our rapport, and hopefully taught my daughter to do the same.
Reminders Beyond the Four Cs:
Love is a valid reason. As a parent, you set digital rules and monitor devices not because your child can’t be trusted but simply because you love them. It’s natural to want to put safety and digital wisdom first. There’s no need to apologize for that. Ever.
Teaching is your job as a parent. You may be a nurse, an accountant, or an entrepreneur but if you have kids, you are also a full-time teacher. Parents can’t protect their kids from every danger online, but we can prepare them to handle those threats. Part of preparing is teaching responsibility (privacy settings, apps), critical thinking (content choices), empathy (kindness) toward others, and digital discernment (contacts, content) online.
Be candid about privacy. If enforcing digital rules makes your child feel as if you are violating his or her privacy, take the time to discuss the reasoning behind the rules. Acknowledge your respect for your child’s privacy and discuss ways to make sure some areas are kept private — such as conversations with peers that are personal.
Remind your child that his or her privacy is part of the reason you monitor. With the increase in video and chat apps, your son’s privacy— and the safety and privacy of the entire family — is a genuine concern. Irresponsible posting (location, personal information) can put the whole family’s privacy at risk.
A phone is a privilege. As common as owning a phone is today, it’s never a bad idea to remind your child that a phone is a privilege and with that privilege comes responsibility.
Kids need to connect. Online is where kids connect with their peers. Wishing they would spend the day with friends at the swimming hole every day isn’t reality. They may connect with peers differently than you expected, use strange language, banter in questionable humor, and get consumed with things that appear senseless to you. That’s okay. Unless it’s risky behavior, allow them to connect with, grow, and navigate their peer groups without being overly intrusive.
Independence is the goal. It’s easier to stay the parenting course when you keep your goal in mind. Even if you have to put a sticky note on your computer that says, “I’m preparing my child to be an awesome adult,” then do it. The issue isn’t as much about a particular rule as it is about growing little humans into thinking, compassionate, responsible adults.
Be flexible. If your child follows the digital ground rules, you’ve set and is making strides toward more responsibility, be willing to ease up accordingly. On the other hand, if he or she shows signs of risky behavior such as isolation, secrecy, or disrespect, then don’t feel guilty about more monitoring. You are the parent. It’s your job.
Spying vs. parenting. If you are upfront with the fact you will be checking devices for risky apps, then it’s not spying it’s called follow through. It’s easy — especially if you uncover risky behavior — for your child to try to turn the conversation back on you claiming a privacy breach. Stay calm have the courage to stand your ground. Focus on the actual issue by stating: “This is not about me spying. It’s about you having these risky photos on your phone. That’s the only thing I’m willing to talk about right now.”
The brain thing. Sounds like a strange reference, but the brain is a huge factor in your relationship with your teenager that is often overlooked. A young person’s brain is not fully developed and won’t be until he or she is 21-24. That means his or her decision-making is going to be inconsistent. Even the most compliant child still isn’t physiologically equipped to make the best decision 100% of the time.
Show compassion. Your child is struggling simply because of his or her age. Teens can be moody, insensitive, angry, and oblivious to important things. Your job is not to take it personally. Your son or daughter is struggling to fit in, get noticed, discover talents, and to figure out the complexities of relationships. So, remember to balance out your rules with a generous helping of compassion and understanding.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have enforcing digital rules? How do you handle them? Please share!
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family.