Many people believe that digital technology has made the already-difficult job of parenting that much harder. As if we didn’t have enough to do in raising normal, healthy children, we now have to worry about what they might stumble across on the Internet, who they’re talking to on iChat, and what they might be doing with that smartphone camera!
In reality, the job of parents should have become easier. Most parents have access to an enormous amount of information and advice through the Internet, and technology-driven medical advances give us early warnings of health issues and treatment options.
Although it’s certainly possible for kids to find trouble in the Internet age, many of those dangers are no different to the problems kids have faced since the first schoolhouse opened its doors. Bullies and bullying existed long before e-mail and Facebook accounts became available; some children were sexually adventurous well before sexting became part of our digital culture; and kids were exposed to smoking and violence on TV long before video games were invented.
A combination of overactive hormones, immaturity, and peer pressure has always caused teens to experiment with risky behavior. What has changed in the digital age is the consequences of such risky behavior. Before, we might have shrugged off some adolescent indiscretion as a boys-will-be-boys moment and hope that they had learned their lesson. Now, with the Internet, YouTube and the ever-present digital camera, such indiscretions may not be so easy to ignore.
Assessing whether your child is likely to engage in risky behavior in the digital world is really no different from how you would have made that assessment 30 year ago. If you think your child might be vulnerable to physical bullying, then it’s likely that they might be exposed to cyber bullying as well. If your daughter is boy-crazy and runs around with a group of like-minded girls, then it’s safe to assume she’s at risk for sexting or similar reckless behavior.
Taking the right steps as a parent depends on our view of our kids’ maturity and lifestyle. If we feel they are well-grounded and are not unduly influenced by risk-takers, then the Internet and digital technology shouldn’t present too many new problems. Regular parental involvement and normal supervision should help them successfully navigate the difficult years.
But if you feel that your child is at risk, then today’s technology offers all the tools they need to turn that risk into a serious problem.