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Train your child to be a free agent in the social network

"It is not a question of when to start checking phones and devices; it is a matter of when to stop." Lt. Merv Screeton, Roseville Police Department
"It is not a question of when to start checking phones and devices; it is a matter of when to stop." Lt. Merv Screeton, Roseville Police Department
Joanna Jullien

We know that cyber connectivity is adult swim exposing kids to pedophiles, bullies and other nefarious influences. And so naturally the most common temptation of the modern parent is to seek to have control over our children’s experiences in the social network. Along those lines, recently the Ohio State Attorney General announced a new feature in their sex offender tracking database, eSCORN, for verifying if an unknown contact in a child’s social network is associated with a registered sex offender in the state database. And while this type of enhanced search capability is helpful, it is not a cyber-safety panacea. No doubt sex offenders will be able to conceal their on-line identities. Sex offenders who are determined to continue to offend will find a way to work around the controls set in place for their probation, just as digital natives find ways to overcome parental control settings.

Therefore the most effective form of parental control over the child’s network experience is training them about what it means to be a “free agent” in the social network. And so as we celebrate this Fourth of July, the birthday of a free society, let us be reminded of the mustard seed of faith that makes civil liberty possible in the first place: God is sovereign over the life of the individual; He grants individuals intelligence and free will; and therefore power is something that cannot be taken, but it can easily be surrendered. Our children can learn how to be the free agent, not the victim in the social network.

Related: The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture - A Parent's Voice in the Cyber Wilderness (2011)

Tips for cultivating cyber-safe resiliency in your child:

1. Create a culture of open communication and transparency. Establish a climate of open communication by first examining your own heart and mind about what you choose to believe. Do you believe that your child can learn to use her free will wisely? Is training your child to be in control your primary motive in monitoring his cyber communications? When children sense we are fearful and controlling, they will be tempted to keep secrets, which extinguish any possibility of open communication about what is happening on and off line.

2. Monitor your child’s communications as the guardian, not the judge. Lieutenant Merve Screeton, with the Roseville Police Department, encourages parents to make monitoring cyber communications the norm at home. “It is not a question of when to start checking phones and devices,” he said. “ It is really a question of when to stop monitoring, which depends upon your situation.” And since you cannot monitor what cannot be seen, and children are tech savvy creatures, parents are also encouraged to refrain from expressing opinion and judgment about the things you are witnessing. Rather ask your child questions and get him thinking for himself about the things that are happening on line, and encourage him to take actions to correct situations that involve gossip, bullying or inappropriate content (that do not reflect his values).

3. Clarify key concepts for the realm of heart and mind that build individual resiliency: forgive (holding individuals accountable with a merciful heart/not allowing the actions of others to define you as a victim) and excuse (not holding someone accountable); and private (personal stuff you keep from the world, not your parents) and secret (experiences and contacts concealed from parents which harbor risk).


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