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Communicating with the ‘smartphone-enabled’ child

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A recent 20ABC KCJB-TV news report explores the dilemma of parents responding to the omnipresence of social media among our youth and the risks associated with it. Bullying and mental health issues are cited as the most common problems for tweens and teens. And by the same token parents cannot keep up with the plethora of new and emerging apps that engage kids and capture much of their time and attention (Vine, Kik, SnapChat and others still under the radar).

This particular news story features a family who decided to move “to the middle of nowhere” where internet connectivity signals could not be found as a desperate measure to keep the devices from disrupting the family unit. And still the reality is that the modern child must be trained as a cyber-safe user of the technology.

Related story: Social media etiquette for parents

According to Marshall Hopper, Chief Probation Officer for Placer County the most challenging part of being a modern parent is maintaining open communication. “That device right there,” he said pointing to my smartphone which I had put on his desk to remind us to take a quick photo of him before concluding the interview, “that smart device is the most misunderstood tool that parents hand out to very young children – as young as eight years old.”

Hopper says he believes that parents provide the mobile devices believing that they are keeping their children safe. “Our schedules are very hectic, with sports events and extra curricular activities and two income or single parent families, parents are issuing mobile phones believing that it is making communication more possible,” he said. “Parents are struggling to make the right decisions. It is not easy being a parent today.”

And so kids are getting hooked on the devices – something Hopper witnesses at restaurants as kids are sitting quietly with heads down. “And then when kids get into trouble, because they are looking for attention, they and their parents do not have a way to really talk about it,” he said.

No doubt mobile connectivity presents a power crisis for the parent and child. And it also creates an opportunity to communicate intelligence to the cyber-powered kid and strengthen parent-child bonds. Below are some considerations for parents to cultivate open communication:

  1. Establish rites of passage for mobile connectivity, which include general boundaries for when to issue devices, how, choosing applications, and expectations of transparency. (To learn more go to: A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media).
  2. Clarify the distinction between private and secret. Private is keeping personal stuff from the world, not from parents. While secrets harbor risk and are not good for you.
  3. Impart wisdom to your child by first listening to how their childhood is informing them, and ask them questions to get them thinking for themselves. Become the trusted advisor about making decisions, from whether or not to download an app, or responding to an unkind texting thread happening with peers in the social network.

(Ref: 950-e)

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