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.