Monthly Archives: August 2013

Start your school year off on the right foot – Parenting workshops on cyberbullying, digital responsibility and risk prevention

1st day of schoolWe sent our baby off to her first day of fifth grade yesterday. Never mind that our baby is over five feet tall, brimming with that distinctive tween mix of confidence and curiosity. She hasn’t let me walk her into class since she started pre-kindergarten at four years old, but she always makes an exception on the first day.

I love that half-hearted squeeze of my hand when she sees her friends, taking off and leaving my holding the bag of carefully labelled school supplies. “Bye Mom!”

She never looks back; I don’t turn around until she’s out of sight. That’s what parenting is all about.

The bittersweet mixture of pride, sadness, relief that accompanies the start of a new school year is tempered for many parents by a concern about new issues, such as Internet safety and responsibility, and old issues with a new twist, such as cyberbullying. These are subjects that come up again and again in the hallways, carpool lines and anywhere that parents gather. Many feel unsure of themselves, as if the rules have changed. They see new pitfalls and dangers that didn’t seem to be there when we were kids.

They are both right and wrong. Digital technologies place new, powerful devices in our kids’ hands that can get them — and others — into more trouble than most of us ever knew at their ages. But the parenting techniques that we can use to keep them safe aren’t vastly different: education, moderation, guidance, supervision, encouragement.

Over the past few years, I’ve given many, many workshops on bullying, cyberbullying and Internet safety and responsibility to groups of parents at schools, community organizations, libraries, churches and synagogues. I work hard to empower parents with practical tips they can use to keep their kids safe and teach them responsibility, but I also make sure to reassure them that they are probably already doing most things right. Parenting is still parenting, and you need to trust your good instincts when you make decisions for your children. Complement that with some specific education and resources for keeping up to date, and you are doing just fine.

Want to know more about my workshops for parents, communities, teachers and school staff? Email me at alissa@risk-within-reason.com and I’ll be happy to outline the different workshops on bullying prevention, digital responsibility and risk prevention.

What’s your wifi code? Reflections on the new normal

Have you noticed this is the first thing each new kid says to you as they walk in the door of your house? The younger ones are clutching their iTouches or iPad Minis, covered in coloured duct tape designs and stickers, tricked out with Rainbow Loom handles ; the teenagers have phones without data packages and full-sized iPads.

Free wifiIn the end they are all the same: they want the Internet. And we hold the key.

Never mind that it contravenes all established rules of courtesy to bring your own gaming or communication device over to someone else’s place. You are supposed to be playing games or talking or hanging out, no?

No. Not for this generation.

Now they huddle together looking at their own screens, or occasionally each other’s screens. They do things that are inexplicable to adults: snap pictures sent by Snapchat, programmed to self-destruct; watch home-made television shows available only online, play games with no discernible purpose (or even worse) they watch videos of other people playing games.

Their necks are craned, their backs are hunched. It’s too hard for a parent to watch this kind of posture so best to turn away while they are with their friends, and leave them to it for controlled amounts of time. Just when they seem to be mostly ignoring each other, in their own worlds, the digital sound is punctuated by bursts of laughter, excited talking at warp speed, waves and waves of giggles.

I bring out cookies, popcorn, fruit. I bite my tongue for long stretches of time, wanting them to Just Go Outside. They are sweet and earnest when they look up from their screens. They are making a video or posting a short story or Tweeting or blogging or gaming. They are so completely immersed in their semi-shared binary worlds that they don’t even understand that we don’t understand this kind of socialization. They don’t really care anyway.

We weren’t any different; it’s just that our playthings had different names: Sony Walkmen, Atari, Intellivision. Let’s be honest – we would have killed for something like an iPad back when we were 14.

I give out the code, but they need to ask me for it. Face to face. In real time. That’s my small assertion of control. The younger ones get supervision and a timer; the older ones have earned some privacy and leniency.

I listen to them making sense of this new world in their conversations. They have their own code. I wonder if we will ever get it.