Mar
18
2011

Parenting the on-line teen

Anyone see the Today Show this morning (3-8-11) ?  Two experts joined Matt Lauer to debate the pro’s and con’s of parents ‘spying’ on their teens internet activities.  Is it an act of dishonesty between the parent and the child or a prudent safety measure?  Any parent can imagine the indignant scream of a 14 year old caught in a racy IM chat, or the sound of a foot-stomping, door-slamming 15 year old confronted about visits to a XXXX-rated site.  Parents hate that. Too bad.  I come down squarely on the side believing that it is a parents responsibility to know where their kid is hanging out and with whom they are communicating.

Parents can’t forget that the adolescent brain is still under construction, particularly in the areas relating to taking risk.  Dr. David Walsh does a great job in his books explaining the details. As parents, we can’t let ourselves be fooled by the fact that our kids look like almost-adults, almost doesn’t count here.  While they seem so much more grown-up than the baby -faced toddler we used to cuddle, they have not yet grown all of the tools necessary to exercise really, really good judgment.

But there is a big difference between being a responsible parent and being dishonest.  Let your child know that you have installed tracking software, or that you have changed your internet setting so that only you can clear the browser cache, or whatever technical tool you choose to monitor on-line activities. And when they’re through screaming and stomping, talk about using seatbelts.  When they buckle up as they get in the car, you don’t take it as an insult to your driving….. it’s just what we do in case today is the one in a million where something goes very wrong.

And the odds of something going wrong for an adolescent on-line are WAY higher than one in a million.  A report commissioned by the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children found that 1 in 7 youth on-line  were exposed to unwanted sexual solicitations; one is eleven reported sexual harassment and — are you ready for the big number?    ONE IN THREE reported unwanted exposure to sexual material! Need proof? See the full report at http://www.missingkids.com/en_US/publications/NC167.pdf .

So let them stomp and slam for a moment or two — after all, demonstrating the need to be independent from parents is also developmentally normal for an adolescent. But hold your ground. Kids need parental support in the on-line world as much as they need a seatbelt in a car.

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