A License To Use

June 2, 2018

I had the fortune tonight to catch up with school friends from 30 years ago. I love that while so much can change, many things, like good friendships, can stay the same. And I’m amazed that, while we have all lived in 3 different continents over the past 20 years, the struggles we face with raising our children, are on par.

One hot topic of the evening, and one which you’ll appreciate, was devices, social media, and kids. Oh the angst of being a parent in this current (and forever) technological cesspool.

We collectively throw our hands up in the air and shout ‘what do we do’? How is this happening? How are our children being so easily manipulated and defined by an instrument that we, humans, designed. Why are we struggling to regain control of this runaway cell phone, social media train? Why cant we control it? How do we control it?

In our interactions with parents, educators and mental health professionals from around the world we hear the same things over and over again. The story of the pre-teen clique who have an ongoing list of ‘who’s popular and attractive’ and ‘who’s ugly and annoying’ that they post to said audiences on instagram; the story of the teen who has posted naked photos of themselves and sent it to their boyfriend/girlfriend for it then to be reposted on social media and/or shown to others; the story of the child who rolled and smoked joints on a school trip and took ‘cool’ photos to post to their facebook page thinking it would never been seen because they had ‘privacy’ settings; and the kids who consistently text their friends at 3am inquiring as to ‘who’s awake’. Some highlighted result(s)…bullying, depression, anxiety.

Same stories, different kids, different countries; same shocked reaction from blindsided and perplexed parents who never saw it coming. No-one is immune.

I’m asking you all to stop being perplexed. Because we’re allowing it to happen. We do have control. We are the parents. It’s our responsibility and our job, to teach, guide and set boundaries around how our children use technology and to help them understand the consequences of misuse.

To receive a license to drive we must first learn the rules of the road and to anticipate the dangers. We hand over the keys of the car with the message that ‘you now have a license to drive which means you also have a license to hurt’. We need to teach that with technology comes responsibility. That there are rules we have to follow and dangers we need to anticipate. We can hurt, we can maim and we can ruin the lives of others, and ourselves, with the choices we make in our daily device interactions.

Start noticing; start paying attention; start asking for access. How many of you have the passwords to your child’s (and when I say child I mean any student living under your roof) social media accounts? How often do you check them? What are you teaching your kids about social media and texting etiquette; about kindness and respect? About how delete is NEVER delete. And about the notion that people will never remember what you did, and said, but will forever remember the way you made them feel.

Please please please…start. Start educating about what’s appropriate and not; about the right and wrong of managing relationships online. Start saying ‘no’ to your child having a phone in their room at all hours and and set boundaries around usage at school. Talk to your teachers about banning the use of phones during school hours. Start getting curious about how, when and with whom they’re using it. Don’t be caught unaware. Be informed, be on guard and teach your kids to be thoughtful, smart and safe.

Provide the boundaries, insist on rules and give your child a true ‘license’ to use their device.