Another week, and another internet “scare” passed around social media that was going to be the end of the world for our kids as we know it. This time it was the “Momo” challenge. Supposedly there was a crazy ugly chicken lady on YouTube challenging children to do dangerous tasks that would get progressively worse until they bordered on committing suicide. We even received a letter from our children’s school warning about the challenge and inviting us as parents to have a discussion with our children. Now less than a week later we come to find out that this challenge was completely hoaxed. Well, yeah.
I believe our very internet savvy children are not idiots (most of the time) and aren’t going to blindly follow what a crazy chicken lady on YouTube tells them to do. Ultimately, crazy chicken lady has no way to verify what the child has accomplished and to send more challenges. Remember, “OK, now it’s time for you to eat a Tide Pod!” Life is nothing like a reboot of “Charmed” on the WB or “The Ring, sequel 7.”
However, just because THIS incident was obviously manufactured bull-crap, doesn’t make EVERY threat on the internet overblown. There is real danger out there. So how do we really keep our kids safe on the internet?
Here are some down to earth, real ways you as a parent can help do that.
As a society, I think it is sometimes easier to deal with fantastical stories like the Momo challenge rather than guard against the real dangers of the internet. YouTube could ban crazy chicken lady. However, to guard your children against cyber bullying and other threats takes real parenting and a trust relationship built up with your children. It is hard, tedious, daily effort.
To monitor what your children are watching on their smartphone screens is uncomfortable and intrusive, and will probably require parents to familiarize themselves with YouTube culture and personalities. Parents will need to set some time aside to view things that will likely make their eyeballs bleed to understand the culture their children are being subjected to. It also will require frank discussions that may not always be the role of the “fun parent.”
The Introduction of Technology
All of my children know how to wield a smart phone faster than I can blink, but this does not mean they have their own devices. My two oldest children received their own personal phones around 8th grade. Not in 3rd, 4th or any grade before that. The simple reason being that I pay the bills, and my children receive a phone when it is useful to me, and when I feel they are ready to accept and understand the rules associated with having said phone. I do not let the fact that “every child in their grade has a phone” determine my decision.
Personally, I am not sure a 3rd grader who has the full ability to access the internet whenever and wherever they want is a good thing. There are things on social media that they are just not ready to see. That being said, my kids also do not get social media accounts until I deem they are ready to do so. And even then, they are monitored.
Creating Technological Open Spaces
We have an open door policy when using technological devices. This means when my kids are on their phones or devices the door must ALWAYS remain open. I peek in regularly and check to see what they are doing. This does two things. It helps them to understand that nothing they do on on their phones or the internet can be done in secret or private. Because even though they are in their rooms and feel they have all of the privacy in the world, everything they do that passes through the internet has a chance of going public. By having this rule, my children know that their father and mother are always watching, and there is also a large chance one of their siblings could pop in at any moment on what they are doing on their phones. This takes the whole element of secrecy away.
Also, all of our computers, laptops, and gaming devices are set-up in open spaces in our home. Again, the hope is this maintains that same level of supervision I feel is healthy for kids to understand boundaries and rules for safety while they are navigating the internet in those early years.
Security and Apps and Such
There are many good ones out there. If you find one you like, then use it. But please do not be under the impression this will keep your kids safe. Only honest and real parental involvement will help do that. Technology won’t protect you or your family from technology.
Talking About Pornography
I am under the firm mindset that porn is completely destructive and should be eradicated EVERYWHERE. I know many say, “boys will be boys, and we have to let them experiment and be young.”
This is absolutely ridiculous.
In our current climate we want men who have been raised to respect and see women as equals. Porn destroys that. It does this for women and young girls too by setting up unrealistic ideals for sex. Turning something beautiful and wonderful into something only used to gratify and titillate.
This is very wrong.
Talk to your kids about how destructive porn is, but also talk to them about their feelings about sex and most importantly, be open and frank when explaining to them what is going with their bodies. Traditionally, porn has been something done in secret. Of course the internet is taking all of that to new heightened extremes, but nobody really openly admits, “I love porn so much!”
If they do take a very careful step back from that person.
But also take that veil of secrecy away from porn by talking to your kids about ALL of it. Sex, love, gender and everything in between. Their bodies are a beauty and a wonder. Help them to understand it by talking about it.
And do it today.
Ultimately, you are the parent. Take their phones or devices away when you see a problem. Or monitor the time they are on them by having them turn it off and do something else for a time. They may complain, but follow your gut when you are feeling there is a problem that needs to be remedied. Chances are you are right.
Parenting is about the scariest thing we will ever do in our entire lives. And right now the world needs parents who are willing to raise strong young men and women who then go out and do amazingly good, kind, inventive, and wonderful things to help make the places we live better.
They can do it, and so can we!