Tag Archives: preteens

My all-time favourite parenting guideline: freedom is a privilege to be earned

yellow sky“May I have a cellphone?”

“Can I have a Facebook account?”

“My friends are going to the mall alone — can I go too?”

All of these requests have one thing in common: freedom. They are each small increments of freedom from parental control. In each case there are potential risks; they all imply a level of trust.

As parents, we need to make decisions about what our kids can handle, and balance them with the things that can go wrong — and right. And when parents ask my advice on what the right answers are for many of these things at different ages, I suggest one overall guideline:

Freedom is a privilege to be earned through the demonstration of consistent, good judgement and behaviour. 

That means that the child who regularly gets his homework done without a fuss after dinner should probably be allowed to watch TV (or play a video game or whatever is agreed). The child who makes healthy choices should be allowed to pack her own lunch for school. The teenager who checks in regularly when she’s out with her friends, respects her curfew and answers her cellphone when you call may be ready for additional incremental steps of freedom.

Each freedom suggests its own rules: the cellphone must be kept charged and answered when you call. It can’t be used in school in violation of school rules. Usage can’t exceed agreed upon limits for talking and texting. They need to review their text messages with a parent from time to time.

The teen who wants to borrow the family car needs to follow the rules of the road, keep it clean and gassed up. Never drink and drive.

And so on.

What about when kids break the rules? Because that’s going to happen. Testing limits is part of growing up, after all.

When my kids break the rules, we discuss what it means. Usually, there is some backpedaling on their freedom for some time: the iPad that isn’t supposed to be used after lights out gets put back downstairs in the kitchen charging station where it used to go. The weekly Facebook page reviews with mom or dad that have fallen by the wayside become a part of our routines once again.

And as they  demonstrate good judgement over time, we continue to offer back those increments of freedom and independence.

Yes, it does sound like common sense. Most parents practice this in one form or another. But the critical thing is to explain the underlying logic to your kids. They need to see the cause and effect logic in their behaviours and privileges.

They also need to understand that if we choose to let them go downtown alone with their friends (or go on a date, or walk to school by themselves), it’s because they’ve earned our trust over time.

And since you know your own kids, you can help decide when they are ready for the responsibilities that come with each freedom. One child may be able to handle her own Facebook account at 12; another may need to wait until they are older. There is no magic age when kids are ready.

Those freedoms aren’t doled out like random rewards — they are their due for playing by our rules.

PDF24    Send article as PDF   

Advice from a 13-year-old on helping kids transition to high school

Montreal Families MagazineIn her first professionally published piece, my 13-year-old daughter offers parents advice on how to make their kids’ transition to high school a little easier:

This time last year, I was heading off to a big, new place: high school. I knew then that it was going to be a challenge for me and my parents. So many things would be different, from teachers, classes and friends to my responsibilities and my parents’ expectations. Now, with a full year of high school behind me, I would like to give my perspective on what parents can do to help their kids with this transition. (Read more)

Aside from my obvious pride in her efforts to get her writing published, I also realize that her words offer her dad and I some insight into how she works. Some takeaways from her advice:

  • Parents, stop talking so much. Give our kids more space. Instead, put more effort into sympathetic listening.
  • Give our kids some more space. They need to make some mistakes to learn important life lessons.
  • Recognize that different kids handle things differently. Some may need more guidance and involvement than others. Respect their temperaments.

Check out Montreal Families Magazine to learn more.

www.pdf24.org    Send article as PDF   

Monitoring our kids’ activities online (or what pool safety has to do with Facebook)

About five years ago, a parenting magazine for which I do a lot of freelance writing asked for my review on a safety product that had been mailed in to their offices by a PR agency. It was a wrist band that small children could wear around swimming pools, ponds and lakes. Immersion in water would set off a wireless alarm, letting adults know that their immediate attention was required.

I said no.

Not because I’m a callous person, or immune to the dangers of drowning for babies, toddlers and non-swimmers of all ages. Two children under 6 years old died over this past holiday weekend in Montreal, and another remains in critical condition, as a result of inconsistent supervision around water just this past weekend alone. A total of 34 Quebec children have drowned so far in 2012. That’s a crazy number of avoidable deaths.

Water is dangerous. Parents and supervising adults need constant vigilance. While any tool that seems to offer additional supervision would seem to be a great idea, I’m not convinced. These kinds of products can also lead the adults who should be watching to get lazy, to stop paying constant, close attention. To forgetting to latch the gate. Or turning away for one moment to answer the phone.

Things don’t have judgement like people do. Kids pull bracelets off when adults aren’t looking. Batteries fail. Connections aren’t made.

It’s too easy to let something else do the watching when it should really be us.

I think about this every time someone asks me about Internet surveillance software for their kids and teens.  Like the pool monitor, our initial instinct is to say “Yes, great! Let’s watch them in every way possible to keep them safe!”

But it doesn’t usually work out that way in actual practice. If you are using SocialShield or UKnowKids or McGruff to remotely monitor your kids’ activities online, then the temptation is to relax and stop asking them so many questions. Maybe you don’t need to connect their Facebook page to your email account so you can get notifications. Maybe you don’t need to regularly sit down with them and review their news feed, or the text messages on their phones.  After all, you now have a fancy dashboard that shows you who they are talking to, what sites they are visiting and what photos they are posting online.

You’re still missing out on something. As with the pool safety monitor, you are missing out on the direct connection to your kid. You are missing out on the shared processing of all this information and communication. The chance to ask them about something they posted in casual conversation, or to remark on the cool gif they made or funny video they posted. And because this direct monitoring puts you in each others’ faces from time to time (with all the eye-rolling, groaning and moaning this may elicit from your kid), they actively self-censor what they do on the Internet.

This is exactly what you want, right? You want them to pause before they click “send” or “post” and think “Will this freak my mother/ father out?” Because if it won’t freak you out, it probably won’t be mistaken for bullying, or sexting or potentially embarrassing material that may prevent them from being elected to office in 25 years. The hope is that eventually they will learn to internalize this filter. Which is when you can pull back and give them a little more incremental freedom.

A recent survey by Cox Communications found 34% of tweens said they lied to parents about what they have been doing online; only 18% of parents knew about this. Why would we want to put even more distance between us by watching them from afar? That’s a rhetorical question actually. I know the answer — because our kids hate it. A 2011 Pew Internet study found that monitoring increased the number of arguments between parents and kids. But while it’s tempting to hide behind monitoring software to avoid the conflict that results from asking your 13-year-old daughter to log into her Facebook account with you, it doesn’t accomplish much.

With all those fancy surveillance tools, it’s just too easy for kids to forget mom and dad are watching, because it doesn’t come up in conversation all the time. It isn’t in their face. They are lulled into forgetting. And since the object isn’t to catch them doing something wrong (or drowning, heaven forbid, to extend the pool metaphor) but to keep them safe, that’s not much good.

So don’t send me an email telling me that the pool safety wristguard saved your nephew’s life or some Internet software stopped a bullying scandal, because I’m happy for you. Really. I’m glad harm has been avoided.

I don’t think these services or objects are inherently evil. But I do think they are the easy way out. They are a job half-done. They make it too easy to keep a constant, honest, eyes-peeled, mind sharp watch on our kids, at least until they are old enough to watch out for themselves, whether they are at the pool or up in their room with an iPad.

 

 

PDF24    Send article as PDF