Edgy Mama: Are you a Mata Hari parent or a sunshine parent?

My girl and her best buddy are taking a spy class together. Yes, a number of Asheville parents are paying for their kids to learn how to spy.

The way our kids do it, spying involves them sneaking quietly around the house and spending hours writing notes to each other in secret code-pretty healthy entertainment, overall. A couple of times I’ve come around a corner only to shriek in surprise after running smack into a half-hidden kid. Hearing the floorboards creak behind me as I’m trying to work can be annoying, though less so than when they’re singing Hannah Montana songs.

The Top Secret spy class, which is part of UNCA’s Super Saturday enrichment program, plus an e-mail from a friend, got me thinking about when, why and how we, as parents, spy on our kids.

My kids don’t have cell phones, e-mail addresses, Facebook or Twitter accounts, but that day approaches like a bullet from a well-oiled gun. To prepare myself, I’ve been talking to other parents about how they keep up with what their kids are doing online and elsewhere. And I’ve been thinking about issues like trust and responsibility and the dangers posed by the interconnected, information-rich world most of us live in.

Some parents tell me that they secretly check their kids’ cell phones to read their text messages and monitor calls. Others “friend” their kids on Facebook-with the “no FB unless you’re friends with Dad” ultimatum. These kids also are required to “friend” grandma, who would keel over from a heart attack if their darlings cussed on-line. Other parents are more laissez faire, hoping that their kids will be responsible with technology.

When do you trust the decision-making skills of someone whose pre-frontal lobe is still developing? What’s the balance between trusting your kid and protecting her? How much can you protect them anyway?

Clear communication is one key to keeping kids safe. Studies say the best protection against high-risk behavior in kids is a strong emotional bond with a parent or primary caregiver. While there always will be kids who have a solid connection with a parent who, because of mental illness or something else, engage in self-destructive or dangerous behavior-that’s not the norm, and those kids probably need professional help.

If I thought one of my kids was in danger and not talking to me about it, I’d be inclined to do a little snooping. But only in extreme cases, like if I thought they were taking hard drugs or had set up a date with someone they met online or were planning a kegger while I was out of town. After all, trust runs both ways, and once you’ve broken it, it can be difficult to regain.

Most kids, particularly teenagers, need to rebel a little bit. They need to separate from their parents and become independent beings capable of learning from their mistakes. I want to support my kids’ budding independence while trying to guide them gently in positive directions (kind of like training a race horse).

My plan involves trying to keep up with technology (while accepting that my kids soon will be more technologically savvy than I). I’ll talk to my kids regularly, about issues like cyberbullying, sexting and cyberstalking. Finally, I’ll tell them that if I supply the technology (cell phone, computer), I have the right to know what they’re doing with it. And yes, they have to “friend” grandma.

We currently have a family laptop that the kids use. It lives on the kitchen desk, screen facing out, so I can see what’s going on. I’ve installed Net Nanny so they don’t inadvertently Google a porn site (which we all know is easy to do by accident—particularly if your spelling’s a little off or you’re researching cougars). Also, they aren’t allowed to use the computer without prior permission.

All the boy wants to do, so far, is play on the PBS site and all the girl wants to do is read about Major League Baseball. Neither know about instant messaging or chat rooms. Yet.

I feel that I’m fairly knowledgeable about on-line options and communities. Yet, what’s available and accessible changes so fast in today’s world, and few of us have time to parent, work, clean our houses, and keep up it with all. But I think we need to try.

When I finally do grant cell phones and e-mail accounts, I’ll talk to my kids candidly about the responsibilities involved. I’ll tell them the same thing I told my younger sisters when they opened Facebook accounts: Don’t write or post ANYTHING (especially photos) that you wouldn’t be comfortable seeing on the front page of your local newspaper. That’s an archetype for our generation as most newspapers no longer have the reach that some blogs or Web sites do.

For my kids, I’d change that to don’t write or post ANYTHING that you wouldn’t be comfortable seeing splashed on Perez Hilton. And parents, if you don’t know who Perez Hilton is, you better get surfing.

Anne Fitten “Edgy Mama” Glenn writes about a number of subjects, including parenting, at www.edgymama.com.


Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

6 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: Are you a Mata Hari parent or a sunshine parent?

  1. Rio

    Both kids had to be my friend on facebook (and Grandma as well!), and we have regular conversations about staying safe and out of trouble with technology. It’s hard to stay on top of all this, but we just figure it’s part of helping them figure out how to navigate the world and make good decisions.

  2. Yaya

    Your Grandmother told me not to write anything down I didn’t want anybody to know…..50+ years ago. Good advice !!!

  3. Penny Gibbs

    We have been parenting for 3 years. My husband’s daughter is 11 almost 12. The Internet/ Facebook/ technology issues are ongoing and change constantly. Social Networking is here to stay. My husband explained the Internet world like this: it’s a playground, and we will not let you at age 11 go to a playground without us knowing where you are and who you are with…we will check in to make sure you are safe- it’s our job. As for her Facebook page- we require her password and we reserve the right to check it at any time. If something inappropriate is there, we pull the plug- or so we think ;)

  4. Canny Nanny

    Since I’m one of the grandmas who will be friended, I promise to have a (pretend) heart attack when or if the kids cuss online. Your boy is presently on high alert about rudeness from Captain Underpants. He’ll say, “You probably won’t like this Nanny….” and I’ll cover my eyes. And since I read a lot of fiction, these are eyes that have just about seen it all!

  5. The Barber of Civility

    A.F. –

    You are right on the mark. As a computer consultant, I tell my clients with kids exactly how to handle all the cyber-stuff out there that is attractive to children, and what they need to watch out for.

    It is a growing concern that kids share too much information on the ‘Net. Bad people out there scan FaceBook, Twitter, other social networking sites, “friending” kids (we have verbed another noun, here) while looking for personal information that can lead them to financial information, and many kids post their dogs names, their parents’ names, what kind of car they drive, just because someone asked them to. If your passwords are made up of personal information (e.g., Rover1945 – the dog’s name and your birth year), your kids could be posting that information on their personal page right now. (Hint – change your passwords to something either totally obscure or something that has no relationship to you at all.)

    One kid with a cell phone camera could post a picture of the little kid next door where the house number is clearly seen in the photo, thereby endangering the other child. The only information missing is the street name, which the camera-wielding kid posted on his/her FB page two months ago. It’s just too easy, and too dangerous.

    Educate yourselves on the workings of the sites and toys your kids use, and set up distinct boundaries for them. The education never ends, by the way, since it all evolves very quickly.

  6. Tess Beebe Johnson

    I present seminars on Internet Safety for Families and would like to add that there is no better protection for kids online than the engagement and supervision of adults. Because a kid has a FB account that is linked to his parents and grandparents is no security if they have other accounts which are not. My own child knew that I monitor our home computer and so got into her shenanigans (knowingly and secretively) with friends help and at school, all away from my supervision and electronic surveillance of activity. My advice to parents is to avoid shielding kids from technology out of fear; instead, ENGAGE and sit beside them to learn how the Internet works and what its positive opportunities can bring. Most kids know how to have multiple accounts (one for parents/family, one for their friends) and most know how to cover their tracks. Some alone time for the older child is appropriate, but most true danger online comes about from kids who are in sites they shouldn’t be in, and typically with kids who lack parental supervision online.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.