Parenting Your Net Generation Child or Adolescent (page 2)
Navigating the online social networking world is a daunting task for most parents. Thankfully, recent research has shown that parents can greatly influence their child's experience online. Dr. Larry Rosen, Professor of Psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills and author of Me, MySpace, and I: Parenting the Net Generation, has found that certain parenting styles can be very effective in parent-child negotiations surrounding MySpace and other social networking sites. Read on for tips and tricks to help make the battle over the online social networking world more productive and less stressful.
First, and foremost, parents should learn and adopt an “Authoritative” parenting style.
This means that you, as a parent, set rules and limits on your child’s behavior, but you do so while consulting with your child and listening carefully and attentively to his/her thoughts and ideas. My recommendation is to have regular short family discussions dealing with technology use in the house and elsewhere, keeping an open dialogue on a continuing basis.
Technology changes so rapidly that you need to keep abreast of what is new and hot and might be appealing to your kids. For example, did you hear about MySpace 5 years ago? Now it has 110 million regular monthly visitors. How about YouTube or Second Life or whatever comes next? Your kids will know all about the current hot websites well before you do so it is important to talk often and find out what technology is beckoning them to climb aboard.
Second, Authoritative parenting should be done using a model I call, TALK for Trust, Assess, Learn, and “K”communicate.
- Trust means that you do not use clandestine ways of checking on your child’s online behavior and you do not institute technological filters that artificially limit your child’s options. Net Generation children are simply too technologically savvy and will find a way to work around these filters. Instead, it is more important to discuss the types of materials that you would like to “filter” with your child and work together, proactively, to provide solutions should he/she encounter filtered material.
- Assess means that you need to pay attention to exactly what technology your children are using. Gaining knowledge is half the battle in keeping tabs on your kids. You need to practice what is referred to as “co-viewing” which means that you spend time using technology with your children. My research shows that most parents rarely or never look at their children’s online social networks and do not check out the games they play or attend to how much they text or IM. Pay particular attention to what is on their MySpace page including their friends, bulletins, blogs, photos, etc. If you see any “friends” that you do not know, ask about them, and click on their photos to see what they are posting on their MySpace pages.
- Learn means that it is important for you to participate in your children’s technology. Have them show you what websites they like and even help you create your own MySpace or Facebook page. Then request to be their friend so you can visit their MySpace page by clicking their photo on your site. Don’t have them make a site for you. It is important for you to literally put your hands on the computer keys and mouse and see how easy it is to create a MySpace page. Have them show you other technology they use. Play games on their Wii, listen to their iPod, send a text message, watch an online video, have a chat or IM conversation. Have them show you how to use the technology that they use on a regular basis so you get a feel for what they are doing and perhaps identify problems that might occur. Information is power. But don’t forget to check in with your children often during those family discussions about what new technology they are now using.
- “K”ommunicate is the most important and difficult parenting tool. It may seem easy to say that you should talk with your children but you are well aware that that is not as simple as it sounds. You are all busy and “face time” tends to get lost along the way. Make time for at least two or three family dinners a week. Post the days on the refrigerator and keep to the schedule. Use the family dinner (as well as the family discussions I talked about earlier) to talk and, more importantly, to listen. One important note: do not try to cram every issue into a single dinner and do not use dinner as a way to tell your kids what they have done wrong. Instead, use it to get a sense of what they are doing both with and without technology. There will be plenty of time to discuss your feelings or concerns about these issues later during family discussions. Keep dinner conversation light and positive. The positive part is critical. Research shows that telling a child that they did something special or particularly well is the best way to engender good family harmony.
Third, understand that there are two types of parenting – Proactive and Reactive. Both are important in raising children. Proactive Parenting involves all parts of the TALK model. It means that you do your best to anticipate potential problems and discuss them with your children BEFORE they happen. For example, if you read an article about teenagers making friends online and then meeting them offline, this would be a good issue to discuss in advance with your children during one of your family discussions or dinners. Start the discussion stating your concerns and then listen to what they have to say. My research shows that the panic caused by the media about sexual predators, cyberbullying, abduction, etc. is blown way out of proportion. Further, even when something bad happens online, nearly all teens know how to handle the problem in an appropriate way. Have them tell you how they would handle it and then compliment them on their safe practices.
Even the best parents cannot anticipate every potential problem that their children might encounter in today’s electronic worlds. This is where Reactive Parenting comes into play. When your child does something that you think is harmful or dangerous, it is common to overreact and immediately apply a major punishment. Telling your teenager that the Internet is off limits for an indefinite time and he/she is “grounded for life” will only make matters worse. This is a good chance to practice Authoritative Parenting. Remember that an Authoritative Parent sets limits after discussing them with their children. Hear them out and ask them what they feel the consequences should be for their actions. Kids often recommend more strict punishment than parents so this is a great opportunity to take what they say and lessen it so everyone wins. Punishment is tricky. For it to work best it needs to be done immediately, contingent on the behavior, and applied consistently. This simply means that you need to punish only for the behavior that was done, as soon as possible after it was done, and be consistent in punishing the same behavior the same way without losing your temper or escalating the punishment.
Fourth, there are several things that you can do to help Proactive and Reactive Parenting more effective.
- Punishment is rarely effective on its own. In order for it to be effective you must be vigilant about finding behaviors where you can compliment your teenager. It is called “catching them being good.” Practice noticing when they do what you want them to do even if it is something as simple as making their bed. The more you positively reinforce good behaviors, the less you will have bad behaviors to punish.
- Encourage your children’s good behavior by modeling your own good behavior. If you want them to limit their time on the Internet, make sure that you are not modeling counteractive behaviors by spending hours in front of the television or computer or on the telephone.
- Monitor your children’s sleep habits as they are often indicative of the impact of spending too much time immersed in an electronic world. Many teens consume caffeinated drinks just to stay awake and talk online until the wee hours of the morning. Stay alert for any behavioral changes.
- If at all possible, put the computer in a common area. Research shows that having a computer in a child’s bedroom is directly related to more time spent online and more problem online behaviors. If you must put the computer in your child’s bedroom, have an open door policy that grants you the privilege to enter at any time and watch what he or she is doing. Be aware that your teen may be very adept at switching screens as you come near the computer so make sure that you set proactive consequences for this kind of subterfuge.
Parenting is not an easy job and the rapid pace of technological change makes it even more difficult. Sadly, children do not come with an instruction manual (although it would be obsolete quickly anyway). You were raised in one world and your children exist in another very different one. The tools your parents used to guide you may not work well with your Net Generation children. Teens live immersed in technology that guides their daily activities and consumes their time. They multitask in ways that make most of our heads spin. It is a new world, one that is so radically different than it was just a few years ago. Maintain your flexibility and sense of humor. It will make it easier to become a better Proactive and Reactive Parent. And above all, remember to TALK to your children.
Reprinted with the permission of Dr. Larry D. Rosen. © 1997-2008 Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.
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