Saturday, 14 February 2015 00:00

Effective Parenting in the Digital Age

Kids meets World

Raising children who will grow into healthy, responsible adults has never been an easy undertaking - and in today’s rapidly changing society, the task represents a greater challenge than ever. Aside from the new technologies that surround us and which have radically changed the very nature of human communication, our concept of the family unit has undergone a major transformation as well.

It is now considered almost a luxury for a woman to be at home raising children - a luxury many families can no longer afford. Extended families, in which grandparents and other relatives also take part in the upbringing of children, are becoming increasingly rare as well.

Filling the Void

Although it’s more difficult these days for many of us to spend a large amount of time parenting directly, today’s children still need love, guidance and discipline - and public schools or babysitters can’t provide enough of that, leaving many parents wondering how to manage raising their kids effectively.

It’s not easy to provide a positive, healthy environment for children to grow up in, when so many parents are forced to work full-time just to keep a roof over their heads and food on their plates. And although the increased communication capability offered by the digital age technology that we now have at our fingertips can help parents to stay in touch with their kids - even when they can’t be there in person - there are also dangers associated with unsupervised online activity among children and teens.

A Digital Minefield

It has been said that technology is essentially neutral. In other words, any technology has the potential for good or evil, depending on how it is utilized. The Internet and the technology we use to access it has revolutionized the way we communicate, the way we learn, the way we act.

Although the benefits we now enjoy in the so-called digital age are numerous and varied, there are also pitfalls and potential dangers associated with online activity, particularly for our children. In this article, I will outline some of the potential negative implications of unsupervised Internet use by children and teens and how parents can create strategies for avoiding the problems which may threaten their own kids.

Internet Addiction

iconeOne of the most common issues regarding the Internet is its highly addictive nature. Adults and children alike - almost all of us, it seems - have become seemingly hypnotized to a certain extent by our Internet devices. Adults (including myself) admittedly tend to spend more time online than they feel is healthy, but it’s almost impossible to avoid these days.

And for kids, it’s even worse - all you have to do is observe any group of modern teenagers in almost any situation. Chances are at least half of them are either talking, texting or playing games on their smartphones and tablets.

We use the Internet for work, education, entertainment and for staying in close touch with family and friends. It’s no wonder that we tend to spend so many hours online, but there is a point beyond which Internet usage becomes an unhealthy addiction.

For kids, it can become a hindrance to schoolwork and social interaction, not to mention the fact that it’s physically unhealthy to stare at a screen all day. I can’t prove it, but I’m guessing there is a significant correlation between the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity and Internet addiction.

When my generation was growing up, we didn’t have so many distractions at our fingertips and I’m pretty certain that, on the average, we got a lot more fresh air and physical exercise than today’s kids. Online gaming is one of the kids become addicted to the web, but simply texting friends, watching videos, etc., can lead to too much time spent online. And it’s not always so easy to monitor or limit these types of activities on the part of our children.

The Dark Side of the Net

Internet addiction is only one of the threats our kids face in the digital age. Online bullying has become an epidemic. One in five teens report having been the victims of some form of online bullying, and in too many cases there have been extremely tragic consequences.

Kids can be extremely sensitive to their social environment and bullying and harassment online can make a child feel so overwhelmed that he or she may actually become suicidal. Often children are too ashamed or afraid to seek help from their parents or other adults who can intervene.

Children are prone to sharing things on the net which may come back to haunt them. The practice of ‘sexting’ and sharing inappropriate photos is far more common than parents would like to believe. And once an image or text is transmitted over the Internet, it can begin to have a life of its own, sometimes with extremely embarrassing or otherwise disastrous consequences for the person who initially shared it.

Another even more frightening prospect is that of a child becoming the victim of an online predator. The anonymity of the Internet provides cover for those who seek to exploit innocent children. Sexual predators often pose as other children online to make contact and to lure kids into face-to-face encounters.

The bottom line is that responsible parents must become aware of the potential threats their children face online and craft a strategy for protecting them.

Is Monitoring Software the Answer?

spy appMany concerned parents have come to the conclusion that it’s nearly impossible to regulate and control the online activities of their children without the help of some form of monitoring software.

Cell phone monitoring systems can be an essential parenting tool. There are software packages that can be used with smartphones, tablets and desktop computers. Parents may purchase one of these monitoring software packages and install it on a child’s phone, tablet or computer to monitor and regulate internet activity.

A good monitoring app can help a parent to keep an eye on how much time is spent online, who their kids are communicating with and what they are sharing online with others. Most of the monitoring apps available on the market also have a GPS location feature, which can be a effective means of keeping track of a child’s physical whereabouts.

These monitoring apps make it possible for busy parents to protect their kids - in real time or when it’s convenient to log in to the private account where the data is stored. Most phone and computer monitoring apps keep a record of phone logs, websites viewed, email and chat content and more.

Some apps perform basic monitoring at a low price, other slightly more expensive ones offer the capability to listen in on phone calls or even take photos and videos using the targeted device’s built-in camera. Most of the apps on the market offer different features - for example, some have the capability to monitor one or two chat platforms, others offer the ability to monitor a dozen or more. Generally speaking, the more features offered, the higher the cost of the contract.

Privacy vs. Safety

Parents have the option to inform their children or not that a monitoring app has been installed. It is legal to monitor a child using one of these apps without the child’s knowledge, as long as he or she is under the age of 18 and under the legal guardianship of the parent or responsible adult.

What may seem like an invasion of privacy to some parents (and of course, the child), may actually be the only effective way to control and monitor a child’s online activities. A caring parent has the right and responsibility to do everything possible to keep a child safe, and in the case of the Internet, forfeiting a certain amount of privacy may be deemed necessary.

Parents are encouraged to consider these options carefully, and it may be an acceptable compromise to let children know that their online behavior is being monitored by the parent. However, in some cases - for instance, when a child is already suspected of wrongdoing - a parent may decide that it is necessary to secretly monitor their online habits.

My opinion is that installing a mobile monitoring app on a child’s phone or computer is about protection and safety, not about snooping. There are just too many good reasons to use one of these apps, and its up to individual parents to decide the best approach for their own kids.

Last modified on Saturday, 14 February 2015 14:14