If your 17-year-old asked you to borrow the car for a few hours, would you let her go if you had no idea where she was heading, who she was going to be with and what she’d be doing? Likely not. Why, then, do well-meaning parents remain completely unaware of where their kids are going, who they connect with and what they’re doing in the digital world?
While 90 percent of teens say their parents trust them to be responsible online, 45 percent say they’d change something about their online behavior if their parents weren’t watching, according to a survey by internet security firm McAfee, Inc. And the Family Online Safety Institute reports that 93 percent of parents say they talk to their teens about online safety, while only 61 percent of teens report having this conversation.
Although the Internet can be a wonderful resource for kids, having access to everything in cyberspace can lead to problems. So it’s essential that parents keep at least some tabs on their children as they navigate through the digital world. How closely they monitor activity depends on their relationship with their kids. It’s a delicate balance between a child’s safety and her privacy.
Fortunately, the principles of Catholic parenting that apply to the “real” world also apply to the virtual one. While understanding the technical ins and outs of the digital universe is essential, the finest monitoring and filtering software programs aren’t as important as some of the basic Catholic parenting principles: love your children, teach them to trust in God, come from a place of empathy and intelligent curiosity, and show them that they’ll always be safe, heard and understood. If this is done on a consistent basis – the earlier, the better – the whole personal privacy-versus-online safety issue will be all but eliminated from the picture.
“Kids naturally want their privacy, and they do need room to grow…but parents should still have password codes. There should be no private activities online,” says Claire Frazier-Yzaguirre, a Catholic marriage and family therapist who, with her husband, Dr. John Yzaguirre, runs Irvine-based Thriving Families.
At the same time, she says, “Parents have to be very interested in their children and learn about digital technology so they can talk with them in an intelligent manner about this subject. Most importantly, you have to balance shared family time [with private digital time]. So many kids feel entitled to hours and hours online. That wouldn’t be the case with good family time balance.”
By using these key parenting principles and creating a healthy amount of family time, arguments such as, “Timmy’s mom doesn’t check his browser history” or “Julie’s parents don’t have her password” become irrelevant. As headstrong as kids can be, when raised right they understand that the online monitoring is done for a good reason.
While you can learn all you need to know about the technical aspects of online safety via one Google search – the amount of helpful information available is extensive – Catholic parents should bookmark Catholic Surf (catholicsurf.com), Faith and Safety (faithandsafety.org), Strong Catholic Family Faith (catholicfamilyfaith.org) and Catholic Web Services (catholicws.com). Check these out, and you’ll be off to a great start.
Still, after all is said and done, kids by nature like to explore and push the boundaries. Frazier-Yzaguirre has an important reminder for when they’re caught: “Don’t shame your kid for experimenting online in an inappropriate manner. Instead, turn their questionable activity into an opportunity to dialog with them. It’s a great opportunity to teach good values. The key is to live the good values yourself, so your kids will learn to own them on their own – don’t force-feed them.”