Parenting In The Digital Age

Editor’s comment: Early last week, a ‘lively discussion’ broke out in my office. It was about the ability of parents to track the activities of their teenagers, especially their relationships with the opposite sex. An interesting drama played out- the married woman (also a mother) in the group insisted that even without being told, it’s very possible (at least for her) to know if (or when) her daughter gets involved with a guy. Two ladies (both in their 20’s) argued the opposite. “Not with kids of these days o! You can’t know if they don’t want you to”. On and on the discussion lingered before we got back to the real business of the day.

Whatever your opinion is on this, one thing is clear- parenting in this digital age has thrown up a whole new set of challenges past generations never had to deal with. How can parents get a handle on these challenges and still maintain  great relationships with their kids, especially during those all-too-important teen years? Here’s Grow360’s Teens LifeStyle blogger, Henry, with some useful ideas. Enjoy!

Dear Parent,

How well do you know your teen? A couple of months back, a video went viral on facebook. It showed a woman beating up her teenage daughter for posting lewd photos online. While many parents would love to think of their kids as little angels, the reality is this- very many have no clue what their kids are up to under the anonymity of cyberspace.

Reality Check: The latest estimates show that 93 percent of teens 13 to 17 years old go online, 75 percent own cell phones, and 73 percent use social networking sites–up from 55 percent just three years ago. While the educational benefits are enormous, the wide, world web is causing many a parent to lose a good night’s sleep and for good reasons. Online sexual predators, pornography, gratuitous violence, profanity, hate sites, and cyber-bullies are just a few parent nightmares.

Five Reasons to monitor your teenagers’ online presence

1. Internet dangers are real: From exposure to inappropriate content like hate sites and pornography, cyber bullying and online predators, the Internet does pose real and present dangers.

One in 5 kids receives sexual solicitations online

11% of young people report that they have formed a relationship with someone they met online- and the numbers are rising.

33% of youth have been exposed to unwanted sexual material online

More than 30% of kids online have experienced some kind of online harassment. Of those students reported being bullied 35% kept it to themselves.

2. Potential damaging future consequences: College admissions and employment firms screen social networking accounts and posts. Inappropriate posts or photos could jeopardize a college acceptance or job. And 39% of teens admit posting something they later regretted.

  1.  Teens lack impulse control: Teen brain circuitry that activates good judgment and problem-solving is still in reduced capacity, and even teen themselves admit to engaging in risky online behavior. 54% of teens admit to demonstrating risky online behavior; 40% of teens admit they gave out personal information on sites despite knowing they shouldn’t; 64% say that most teens do things online that they wouldn’t want their parents to know about.

4. “Hands-on parenting” curbs risky teen behavior: While there are no guarantees, research finds that “hands-on parenting (monitoring behavior, knowing your kids’ friends, setting clear rules and not being afraid to say no) are the best ways to lower risky behaviors and keep teens safe both online and off.

  1.  Parental responsibility to guide and protect their children off and online.


Three Internet rules are especially critical for kids to learn: 

  • People: Never meet anyone offline that you meet online. People are not always who you think they are online.
  •  Public: The computer is public, so do not post unless you want the world—and Grandma-to read it. There are no take-backs!
  •  Private: Do not give out personal information–passwords, name, birth date, address, location, school name, social security numbers, and photos with personal data–or make it easy for people to find you.

Tips to Help Monitor Teens Online

1. Use the “Walk By” Rule: Emphasize that if at any time you walk and see your child covering the screen, switching screens, closing programs, quickly turning off the computer, or not adhering to your family rules, pull the plug. End of argument.


2. Learn teens’ internet slangs and trends

Stay on top of the latest Internet trends. Recognize that kids have their own unique lingo and abbreviations to warn friends that parents are in the room.

What research says: 95% percent of parents don’t know common chat terms that kids use to text one another to warn friends that their parents are in the room.

What parents can do: Learn kid electronic slang and then watch for those abbreviations.


3. Be where your kids are online.

You can’t monitor what you’re locked out of, so get to know all your kids’ online accounts and then set up accounts for yourself as well.  Trying to be too confrontational about this will backfire, if you try to force it, they’ll simply get sneakier and ‘disappear’ online.


What research says: A teen survey found 56% of teens gave parents full profile access; 58% of parents don’t have their teen’s profiles.

What parents can do: Get accounts for all social networking sites your child frequents. Be where your kids are. If your kids are on twitter, you need to be; if your kids have an email account, you must; if they have a facebook page, so do you. Tell your teen to tell her friends-and their parents-you are monitoring.


4. Befriend each other. 

Ask your teen to allow you to become a friend on his or her account. Ask him to help create your page (Big hint: Do not post on your teen’s account without permission, which can be a big turn off and do not set up a page without your teen’s approval — another big turnoff).


5. Keep internet access in places you can monitor.

With mobile devices now virtually the standard means of internet access for teens, this becomes more difficult. But it’s doable. You can’t monitor your child’s online activities in places you can’t be or see, so don’t allow the computer in places you can’t supervise. Keep your computer in public places you can supervise such as the family room or living room and remove Internet access from the bedroom.

What research says: More than a quarter of teens say they have Internet access in their bedroom where parents cannot monitor and they say they continue to receive texts after lights out.

What parents can do:

Make the bedroom Internet free. Remove Internet access from your children’s bedroom-especially after lights out.

6. Check your child’s virtual world and persona.

Find out your child’s “virtual persona” (which can be an eye-opener!) to ensure the page, avatar, email name and photos depict respect and may not be a later “regrettable” that could damage his or her offline reputation, a job hire or even college acceptance. Feel free to say, “The computer-and anything posted-reflects on our whole family.”

What research says: 38% of parents have never seen their teen’s online profile

What parents can do: View your child’s virtual persona: Ask your child (and friends) if they have a Web page and watch their reaction. HINT: Stuttering, stammering, changing subject are possible warning signs. Do ask your child to explain her choices (whether positive or negative) about her webpage, email name, or descriptions of himself/herself. It’s a fabulous opportunity to find out about your child’s identity.


7. Check your child’s email address (i.d) and profile periodically together to assure that it connotes respect. If not, suggest it be changed or removed.

 8. “Google” your child’s name as well as setting alerts for your child’s contact information. The alerts will email you when any of the searched items are recognized and acts like an early warning system to spot ways your child’s personal information may be exposed to strangers online.

9. Check online history. At least once a month open up files that your kids have downloaded. At least once a week check the history of sites your child has frequented.


10. Start early and keep talking about internet safety.

This by far, is the most effective way to monitor your teenagers. Build a very healthy relationship with your teenager such that communication never becomes awkward. The crux of safety is communication so if there is a problem-online or off-your child will be more likely to talk to you about it.

What the research says: A national study found that the more kids report it hard to talk to their parents about online issues, the greater the disagreement over technology, rules and online monitoring.

What parents can do: Fifty years of child development research shows while there are no guarantees the best way to reduce risky kid behavior is the strength of our relationship with our kids.


Truth be told, it can be quite difficult to keep an eye on your teenagers especially in this digital age, but wishing for the good (were they that ‘good’?) ol’ days is not wise (Ecclesiastes 7:10). This is the world we live in and it can only get more ‘digitized’ moving forward. In conclusion, do your best to build a close relationship with your kids long before they become teenagers. Talk with (not just TO) them about everything and anything. Let them know they can count on your listening ear and patient heart. Give them reassons to trust your love and understanding of this special time in their lives. No technology can beat that.

Keep being an awesome parent!


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