Not all damage to our house originated at an external source, and not all of it came from what could be called a “flood.” We found an internal leak.
Somewhere in the middle of ripping out the bathroom, the workers found within the walls of the house itself fissures in pipes. Slow, steady, trickling at a rate that could cover the floor in under a minute’s time, water was entering the house behind its own walls. Experts who assessed the problem told me those leaks alone could have filled up a basement in a matter of hours, maybe a day. Which is why, in spite of having stanched the outdoor leak, having run industrial fans for weeks on end, and having essentially stripped the basement to the bone, things remained soggy.
Sometimes, know what? Grrrrrrrr.
So back to our metaphor pointing to digital safety: As a parent, you’re lucky if you can identify the immediate source of digital danger. Your child tells you she has been cyber-bullied. You search the computer history and find a link to a porn site. You trace what seems at first blush like an innocent conversation between your twelve-year-old and an online pen pal, only to find the trail leads to a lewd chat room and a sexual predator, a stalker. Lucky you: at least you’ve pinpointed the source of your flood.
But the truth is that the digital world makes for more leaks than for sudden, discernible floods. Digital information is running throughout our walls all the time — through ceilings and floors, through our fingers, across our laps. This is why it is absolutely critical that parents, teachers, and other adult role models are alert, savvy, and totally engaged in directing kids toward wise digital citizenship.
In other words, parents have to be there. By that I don’t necessarily mean literally sitting elbow-to-elbow every time little Hannah switches on her gadget, or little Milton flips open the family laptop. Although, hmm, in the earliest years, why not? I’d suggest you be physically close-at- hand discussing, directing, and modeling responsible cyber presence. You do that just like you do when Hannah memorizes her multiplication tables and Milton practices his arpeggios on the cello. You are near, encouraging, talking it through, sharing the experience.
As children grow older, being there means being interested in, communicative about, and up-to-date on what is happening in the world your child is navigating. I mean being actively alert, not passive and resigned to whatever floats across the screen. Like you, maybe,I’ve heard one too many times from parents that they have no right to check their child’s history because that child “needs her privacy”, and from certain school administrators (aware of rampant sexting among their students) I’ve heard that, well, hmmm, “this is simply today’s world” and “we’ve got to leave these kids their right to choose.”
Sometimes, know what? Grrrrrrrr again.
With that kind of rousing support, you might feel that you’re on your own. Don’t be defeated. Don’t shrug or resign. Be there watching out for potential leaks within what is admittedly a whole world of wildly cool stuff.
Maybe you’re relatively new to parenting yet old to the digital world. Or you’re old to parenting, but relatively new to the digital world. Whatever the case, it is vital to rid yourself of any denial (“Never my child!”) and shake yourself into reality by being on the lookout for some of the many leaks that are inherent to our digital world. Here is a sampling of some of those leaks I’ve learned of in my years of parenting, volunteering with youth, talking with the best parents and mentors, and researching digital trends:
(Check the underlined words for links giving you much helpful — thought sometimes disturbing — additional information)
Harassment and Extortion
Sexting and the exchange of provocative/pornographic texts or images
Spamming, stalking, scamming
And the encouragement of eating disorders, suicide, drug abuse, self-harm, and other forms of violence toward both self and others.
I can recommend this resource for parents, teachers, counsellors, and youth regarding digital safety. In spite of its Americanness, which limits somewhat its application on a broader scale, (it refers to “school districts” and presupposes the user’s familiarity with US legal norms), it offers many high quality, ready-to-use tools like video coaching and external links.
What “leaks” have you noted in the lives of youth you care for or work with?
What resources have you turned to as a parent or other adult role model to train youth in healthy digital citizenship?