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Your Father’s Famous Four Questions (Part 2)

In my last blog post, I shared four questions that parents typically ask their children before letting them out the door.  These questions came to me from Lori Getz, who writes about them in detail in the Parent Resource Center of her website.  The questions are as follows:

  1. What are wearing?
  2. Where are you going?
  3. Who are you going with?
  4. What time will you be home?

Question 2: Where are you going?

Admittedly, most of our generation probably lied about this one more than all the others.  After all, we could say one thing and do another and often avoid getting caught.  The library was the most common false destination of many a grown-up’s adolescent ventures.  When we were kids, inside the house was a safe haven for most of us.  Our parents knew where we were, and how much trouble could we really find at home? 

A bus stop in BrazilLori Getz addresses the issue of privacy for our young people.  There seems to be this idea that kids have a right to go almost anywhere online, and we parents are supposed to support this wandering.  There are parts of town where you’d NEVER let your kids go.  The Internet is FULL of such places.  I am quite certain that I don’t even know about half of them.  I believe that the bottom line here, for parents, is the law.  You have a job to do as a parent.  You WILL be held legally accountable for your child’s actions until he or she turns 18.  So that means that if your child is entering adults-only websites or striking up online friendships with people who SAY they’re the same age as your kid, the only person who can really be held accountable is YOU if something goes wrong. 

I have an image in my head of real-life bars and nightclubs.  Obviously, children won’t be permitted to enter such places.  But, without parental supervision, what is to stop them from hanging around outside or even just around the corner?  When we allow our children free, unsupervised access to whatever they find on the Internet, aren’t we really just dropping them off at a bus stop in the seediest part of town?  This is the main reason I advocate keeping all computers in high-traffic areas of the home.  Computer use does not belong behind closed bedroom doors.  A kitchen or family room is the perfect place, with the monitor angled so that anyone in the room can see what’s on the screen, to help kids make good choices about where they travel online.

Something parents also need to consider is the online gaming experiences their children are encountering.  The content in many online games rivals movies and television shows in terms of how violent, explicit, or unhealthy it is in its messages.  Many parents strictly limit television or get rid of it entirely.  But they may not realize that their children are engaged in equally objectionable materials in the games they frequent.  I will be the first to advocate online environments as potentially positive for young people; I just believe that these are experiences that should be shared with a parent or other responsible family member.  We regulate what our children watch at home and in movie theaters; we can do the same with their gaming.  An added factor in the area of online gaming is the other players with whom your child may be interacting.  Multi-player games can offer many enriching experiences for kids.  However, there are predators who only use online games to meet their victims, preying on the chance that such kids may be disaffected and escaping into games to avoid realities in which they don’t get what they need.

Woman outdoors with laptopParents of kids who cross state lines to meet with child predators aren’t usually aware of what their children have been doing online.  They might feel uncomfortable with technology or they may believe they don’t have time for such activities as keeping up with their kids online.  However, taking the time to have your child explain his or her online activities – and then limiting the time your child can spend on them – is a worthwhile investment.  By setting limits, and using themselves as models, parents can demonstrate how there is more to life than what’s online.  And this means that there are other demands on one’s time that are more important.

This is also an opportunity to help kids establish trust within the family dynamic.  Setting limits and being nearby is the first step.  Then, kids should not need to be supervised at ALL times, as long as what they do is out in the open.  When a parent or older sibling passes through on the way to the fridge, he or she can glance over and keep an eye on the overall behavior of the young person at the computer.  Quickly hiding something on the screen or switching off the monitor are signs of trouble.  Parenting skills can take over from there.

Computer and Internet use offers far more positive benefits than it does dangers.  Parents can use these tools wisely to raise responsible children who will become adults who make good choices.  But we would no more let them loose on the wild, wild Internet than we would let them roam the streets at night.  So if parents can be aware of where their kids are going online, they can help them avoid some of the negative consequences of clicking down the wrong path.

Image of bus stop from Flickr user xander76, some rights reserved, Creative Commons.

Image of young woman outdoors with computer from Flickr user Ed Yourdon, some rights reserved, Creative Commons.

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