This isn’t just your usual boring, annoying reminder to participate in my quick parenting survey about kids and technology. That’s because the initial response has been so positive, and I’d like to share a few of the emerging facts BEFORE I urge you all to: 1) spend two minutes to complete it yourself (if you haven’t already) and 2) to please share/ repost it for your friends and followers.
One of the questions I ask parents was what their top concerns were about having their kids online. Now it’s important to bear in mind that all my respondents, since they found me through my blog, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or some other online source, are already at least somewhat comfortable online, and this may colour their responses somewhat. Nevertheless, their top 5 concerns jive pretty closely with what I’ve been hearing from parents in workshops over the years.
Personal information is really a huge concern, as it should be. Not only do parents worry about the privacy issues, but they are also concerned their kids may jeopardize their future job and social prospects with inappropriate posts now while they are young. Time is a huge issues, and helping our kids control the impulse to be online constantly is a difficult battle to win when most adults struggle with the same issue. Finally, dealing with sexual and violent content on the Internet remains a justifiable concern, as research indicates in desensitizes our kids to these things at younger and younger ages. There are other concerns listed here as well, and some parents were kind enough to share their own fears with me as well.
These results are fascinating to me, and I plan to spend a lot more time discussing them individually, but I need your help. The amount of data I’ve collected is a great start, but I’m still limited by what I can say until I get the numbers of responses up there. Please help me out by sending the link (https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/RWRparentsurvey) to your friends and colleagues, sharing it on your walls or Twitter accounts, or even putting it at the bottom of your own blog posts.
In return, I promise to write about the results and offer some practical suggestions to parents and teachers based on current research, best practices and whole load of common sense. Because as a mom of three pre-teens/ teens myself, I know how confusing it can be to stare at a lot of scary numbers. My goal is to translate those charts into practical steps that will make sense in your home, with your kids.
The very best part of the work I do at Risk Within Reason is the direct contact with parents, teachers, students and readers. I learn something new every time I do a presentation , and the questions I get from audiences and my blog readers help keep me focused on the current issues for schools and families. Which I then pass on to my readers and workshop participants.
Like the explosive growth of Twitter use among teens, partly (they say) because their parents are watching them too closely on Facebook. Or the ways they use video chat to communicate things with friends without leaving a trail. Or the truly creative use of blogging, animation and gaming sites to produce things (from photos to animation to game design and coding) that teens couldn’t have imagined doing even 10 years ago.
It isn’t all bad stuff. It isn’t all scary. Our teens are bright and earnest and curious. But we do need to watch them very carefully. And I like to think that by helping keep my readers informed about these complex and ever-changing issues, I make it easier for them to know what to watch.
When I do workshops on digital safety in schools, I always send out quick surveys beforehand — one for the students and one for the parents. That way I can integrate data from that school into my talk; they like to know what their students and parents believe.
The results are fascinating. They’ve shown me an interesting disconnect between the fears and concerns of both groups, as well as not too surprising differences between the household Internet and cellphone rules as understood by the kids and their parents. It’s a topic I plan to write about soon.
But before I do, I need your help. I’m trying to collect more information about parents’ concerns. What are you worried about when it comes to your kids and technology? How do you deal with those worries? What do you wish your kids knew?
If you have children under the age of 18, please take 5 minutes from your busy schedule to complete this simple 10-question survey. If you have more than one child, pick one between 10 and 16 when you consider your responses. It’s anonymous and confidential. And I promise to write all about it here on Rise Within Reason.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post for parents about what school principals want them to know about bullying. I’d spent a morning consulting with all the principals of a major Quebec school board, and I was really impressed by how proactive, concerned and invested they were in solving the complicated issues around bullying. I was also struck by the obstacles they faced: the limited resources, lack of personnel, need to support their teachers, blurry legal requirements and often conflicted interactions with parents.
It was a real eye-opener for me. As a parent, I’d never fully understood what these men and women have to negotiate in school with our children every single day.
But I still have more to learn. On February 23rd, I was privileged to spend an entire day talking about bullying and risk behaviors with 65 teachers and school administrators from across the province and Ontario. This was part of the Centre for Educational Leadership‘s Distinguished Educators Seminar Series at McGill University.
It was clear from the beginning that they are very concerned. Like most educators, this group worried about the blurry line between school and home, the Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter interactions that spill over into fights and drama in the classroom and schoolyard. They knew that parents, not just students, were whipping up the rumour mill online and through email and texting campaigns when something happened with their kids. Small things become big things very quickly; misinformation and disinformation abound.
The amount of time spent managing these issues can quickly get out of hand and get in the way of the primary activity at school: teaching.
So what follows is a catch-all list of Things for Parents to Think About (for lack of a more imaginative title). It’s really an addendum to my earlier post, but highlights some key items. In a perfect world, there would be a seamless partnership between school and home. But in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to worry about bullying either.
Know what your child is doing. Who are his friends? What does she do after school? What online accounts do they have? What are their passwords? Who is she texting? Who is he Skyping? This one seems almost too obvious to put down. But it’s the most important. Because even well-meaning, involved parents can lose track of their kids’ day-to-day habits and activities.
Because as our kids grow up, they naturally pull away. And it happens in slow, almost imperceptible increments. One day we wake up to find the 10-year-old who tells you everything has turned into a secretive 13-year-old who thinks you don’t know anything.
Teachers — especially in grades 6-8 — often deal with parents who just have no clue about their kids’ social lives and daily dramas. They sign their report cards, pay for field trips and maybe even pack their lunches, but they don’t really know what’s going on inside their offspring’s hormone-riddled, rapidly developing brains and bodies. (See this post on the insightful Scott Fried about the secrets of teens). So when an incident happens, or guidance is needed, mom and dad aren’t prepared to properly parent.
Educate yourself about teen culture. Get a Facebook page. Know the difference between a tweet and a text. LOL every once in a while. Ask your kid to play you some of their favourite music. Watch an episode of Glee or the trailer for the Hunger Games or visit the World fo Warcraft website (or whatever your child adores). Not because you’re trying to be cool (you’ll never succeed in your child’s eyes) but because you are showing an interest in what his or her life is like. You’re making an effort to understand their cultural milieu. They may not admit it, but they’ll appreciate it. You might even find yourself having an actual conversation with the same kid who answered every other question with monosyllables.
Which brings me to my next point: Be your kid’s parent, not their friend. A lot of parents find this confusing. Don’t we want them to find us cool? Don’t we want them to confide in us, tell us things, hang out with us? Nothing wrong with that. All falls within the purview of parenting. But the line in the sand is respect. Our kids must respect our rules, values and attitudes. They must be willing to give back to the family in appropriate ways. They must not take us for granted, talk back or ditch us every time more exciting plans present themselves.
Friends operate on an equal playing field, and respect can (and should) be a part of that as well. But a parent-child relationship doesn’t function that way. Yes, as parents we still need to respect our children, explain the rationale for our reasoning (when appropriate, to help them learn), make reasonable compromises and let them grow up as distinct individuals. I’m not arguing for a military-style dictatorship. But our children sometimes need to conform to rules and expectations with which they don’t agree. Sometimes the negotiating has to end, and they need to accept a “because I say so” response.
When an incident arises at school, teachers and principals need to be able to count on parents who know the difference between advocating for our children’s best interests and over protecting them. Although we should be there to guide them, we can’t (and shouldn’t) shelter them from all adversity. Those natural consequences and occasional experiences of pain, frustration and stress are an important part of growing up. If they don’t learn it in measured doses while they are young, they will never learn to cope with the harder stuff life throws at them when they are adults.
Parent with your head, not just your heart. It’s agonizing to watch our children suffer social pain, bad grades, bullying or even the consequences of broken rules. No parent easily forgets the worry and dismay over a kid who misses a soccer game because of detention, gets kicked off a team, skips a school trip or develops nervous headaches and stomach problems because they are too stressed to go to school.
We serve our children’s best interests when we learn to strike a balance between our sad feelings for their hurt and our intellectual understanding of what’s really going on. Sometimes it’s entirely appropriate to march into the school office and demand action, but often we are more effective when we keep a cool head and evaluate a situation: get the full story from our child before we call the school. Speak to the teacher before we call the principal. Consider whether it’s possible that the same child who is so lovely with her grandma and the neighbour’s cat couldn’t also be the one who rallies the other girls to exclude a friend from their clique. Or post libellous comments about a teacher on a Facebook page.
This last one is perhaps the hardest thing we have to do as mothers and fathers, but also possibly the most important. Because when things get complicated and others are involved, we need to make level-headed decisions with the big picture in mind. Sometimes we can find ourselves dealing with an unreasonable school or an untenable situation, but in some cases WE are the ones generating the conflict or asking for rules to be bent. Since these are precisely the same expectations we have from our teachers and principals, it helps if we can be on board.
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"What a crucial conversation, and what a talented speaker! Dr. Alissa Sklar’s presentation to Akiva School’s parent body was full of clear, relevant, down-to-earth facts presented in a highly engaging manner. No jargon, no scare tactics – just solid information and excellent advice. A no-risk program for parents." -Frances (Cooki) Levy, Head of The Akiva School ("The Power of Positive Parenting: Preventing Risky Behaviors for All Ages")
"Alissa is the consummate professional and speaks with great authority. We hope she will be one of our feature speakers at many future workshops." Kelly Wilton, editor and co-publisher of Montreal Families Magazine
RiskWithinReason is intended as a support and information resource. If you need counselling for your child, consider contacting a trained child psychologist. Your family doctor or CLSC can recommend one, or you can also visit Collage Therapies at http://www.collagetherapies.ca/en