Leaving them to their own devices or Values-added parenting.

Parenting today faces unprecedented challenges. Never before have parents had to work in the realms of cyber reality as well as what many would regard as normal, real life living.

We have the choice of either adding values to the lives of our children or leaving them to their own devices.

What does parenting online look like? Well it begins offline. Online parenting begins with your children knowing that they are loved, that they are safe because you are protecting them, that you are looking out for them, that they are heard, seen and valued. Children want to know that their thoughts and feelings are valued and will be heard and treasured. This establishes a platform where values can be shared with them, values that are lived offline and carried online as they engage with an unseen/unknown world. Online parenting is merely an extension of offline parenting. Parenting should look the same because you are the same parent and your children are the same children. The values you display and promote in your home should be the same as what is expressed online.

How do you protect your children online? Think about what rules you apply when it comes to stranger danger. How have you taught your children to behave when approached by somebody that they do not know or trust? Apply the same values in an online setting.

  • Do your children get into cars with strangers?
  • Do you invite random strangers into your home or leave your children in their care?
  • Do they do sleepovers at homes where you don’t know the other family well enough or where you don’t have common values?
  • Do they share deep intimate details with someone, a random person on the street or in the mall?
  • Do you enforce a dress code when you go out for your children?
  • Do you invest in locks for your doors, burglar bars for your windows and possibly protective walls, fences and gates around your property to keep dangers out and create a safe space with healthy boundaries for your children to play and feel safe?
  • Do you use passwords, pins or codes to protect sensitive information?

These are just some of the considerations that we apply when looking after our children in the real world. How does that look online?

  • If your child interacts with a person online that they do not know, that person is still a stranger unless they are already friends offline. The same boundaries that exist offline should therefore be applied online.
  • Sharing personal information, in particular about where they live or go to school would not be safe offline, therefore it is not safe online. The same is true for deep personal emotional information. That information should only be shared with trusted people otherwise the possibility exists that a false emotional connection can be formed with someone who they actually should not trust.
  • A dress code offline is appropriate. The same applies online which should be applied to photographs, videos and live video calls. Remember that when an image or video is shared online, that file can be re-shared to tens of thousands of people in a matter of minutes.
  • Protective boundaries around your home are there both to keep dangers out but also to create a space for freedom. This is the purpose of healthy boundaries online. We are free when we know we are safe. Those boundaries can be time-limits, content restrictions, age-restrictions, friends only contacts and device space/area zones.
  • Sensitive information online includes personal details regarding identity, location, contact details, school affiliation, regular social locations, age, online accounts etc. These should be protected using pin codes, passwords etc.

The final area of online parenting that causes the most contention is around privacy on devices. This topic has a variety of positions and as a parent you need to decide what is appropriate in your relationship with your child based on your level of trust with them and their level of maturity.

A few thoughts to consider regarding privacy on devices:

  • Do your children recognise and accept that you are looking out for their well being?
  • Will you children feel comfortable to share with you if somebody approached them online?
  • How will you react or respond to such an approach?
  • Do your children regard online/device privacy as a license for doing as they please?
  • If the devices they are using were purchased by you or are registered to you, then you are liable for their content and what they are used for. This point is particularly important regarding sexting and selfies which may be regarded as child pornography and is prosecutable under the Film and Publications Board Act.
  • Are you comfortable in allowing your children to act online in a way that is contrary to what is acceptable in front of you?

At the end of the day, our children are our responsibility and while they are maturing in their discernment and wisdom, it is our task to guide them into responsible adulthood. We can either be their parents at all times or leave them to their own devices.

If you require assistance in managing your family’s devices, click here.

If you need the guidance of a counsellor to restore family relationships or heal from device induced mental health issues, click here. 


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