A stranger has sent instant messages filled with sexual innuendo to your 13-year-old daughter. What should you do? For single-mother of four, Angela Thomas, the answer was cut and dry: no more Internet, no TV after 9pm, no video games rated anything higher than "E” and no movies without pre-approval.
Seem harsh? Thomas says tough times call for tough measures. In her new book, My Single Mom Life: Stories & Practical Lessons for Your Journey, Thomas devotes an entire chapter to the idea that it’s okay to be a “Boundary Mom.” As a single mom, Thomas says she doesn’t have time to police activity on-line and that it’s too easy for her kids to get around filters and Internet spy technology, so she's put stringent boundaries in place to make monitoring unnecessary. “They’re not above being tempted. I feel like curiosity can get the best of anybody, ” she says.
When her children come home with a report, they research together on her laptop. When it comes to films, Thomas says she doesn’t rely on the movie industry rating system to tell her what’s okay for her children to watch. She reads on-line movie reviews, using sites such as http://www.pluggedinonline.com.
However, for Thomas and her children, ages 9, 11, 13, and 17, it’s not all "Leave It to Beaver." She says, “There are times a child will act out, pout and slam the door. Then that’s the time I tell them, ‘You can feel anger, but you can’t act out’.” Thomas says the pouting has actually decreased in the five years since she set up her rules. She offers these tips to help make the tough love go down a little easier for your child:
- Give privacy when it’s earned: “with the older one I’m not every second hanging over her. She’s been protected for so long, I trust her.”
- Think “Boundary Parent” not “Drill Sergeant” by being firm, but compassionate: “I tell them, ‘I understand why this is hard for you, but this is the protector call, the safe call, the loving call’.”
- Let them know that it’s ONLY about their safety: “I tell that that I'm fascinated by their lives and who they are. I'm not trying to be mean.”
- Talk openly with your kids about dangers: “you don’t have to experience something to know of it.”
As shielded as they are, Thomas says she isn’t concerned about stunting her children’s computer literacy. She believes that their computer classes at school, combined with monitored at-home usage, will lead to a short learning-curve when they’re on their own.
Though every family has different rules, monitoring your child's media consumption doesn't have to be an impossible conversation. So, next time you peer over your child's shoulder and don't like what you see, don't swallow-hard, start talking. You may not jump to the drastic measures Thomas put in place, but a little oversight is nothing to be ashamed of.