We live in the information age. If there were such a thing as a phone booth anymore, a bear couldn’t pass wind in one without a TMZ crew showing up to capture the moment and a sound bite. Power on, open browser and WOOSH: A tsunami of data at your fingertips. Trouble for parents is it’s exceedingly tough to shield tech savvy kids empowered with smartphones and tablets from accessing this torrent of largely useless and often false information. As a single dad, you have to try.
My kids are both younger than 10. Admittedly, I don’t fumble with parental controls on their devices and I don’t typically review their browsing histories or text exchanges. The parental controls issue is something way down on the To-Do List and I don’t poke into their business because I respect their fledgling senses of privacy. Still, I have my concerns with them learning too much too soon and/or encountering would-be predators.
As I evolve into single parenthood, I know that the matter of Web safety needs to be addressed, but to what extent? No one flags YouTube videos for foul language anymore. Video games seem intent on preparing kids for careers in forensic pathology. Even the average pop song is loaded with sexual innuendo and references to substance abuse. Add to that that the kids’ peers are already into these things and the horses are already out of the barn. Hell, they’re on a chartered bus to North Dakota, even.
My current stance is to monitor what I’m hearing from or seeing on their devices and react to what I find objectionable. I tell the kids to change the song, game or video and explain why. Sometimes, they change these of their own accord — in my presence. But what do they do when I’m not around?
I figure being a parent means accepting that trying to control a maturing, curious child is like trying to change the direction of the tide. The smart move is to guide without seeming to guide and discipline without seeming to discipline.
When you hear your child listening to a sexually suggestive song, see him playing a particularly violent game or watching a video loaded with foul language, gently express why these things are not appropriate for them. Younger kids generally crave their parents approval, so it’s likely they will move on to something else with some understanding of why a change was necessary. This way, boundaries are set without confrontations. Of course, this is no guarantee that the kids will not repeat the discouraged behavior outside of your presence, but at least they will know your expectations.
I’m a plain spoken person, but parenting has taught me that straight talk has limited reach with kids. It’s a process, people.