As Spencer makes his way through the teen years, I feel like his guinea pig status is doubled that of what I experienced. Not only have Glen and I never parented a teen before, but many of the challenges that this generation of teens are facing are unique in the history of the world. There aren't generations of wisdom behind us imparting their ideas of how to deal with texting, portals to the world in our living rooms (internet), and cell phones attached to their hips. We are the guinea pig parents trying to figure out how to teach a generation of techno-savvy kids glued to gadgets we never even dreamed about in our youth.
I hate to start rambling on about when I was a kid, but here goes anyway. I remember when I was a kid coming home after an activity and wondering IF someone had called me when I was out. Now with caller id and cell phones, my kids don't have the experience of wondering, they already know.
I remember poring over encyclopedias and spending hours in the library looking for just the right books for a research paper. The other day I had one of my kids ask me what an encyclopedia was. They thought I was talking about Wikipedia.
And if I wanted to know what was up with one of my friends, I had to pick up a phone and call them or even visit them in person *gasp*. Now with Facebook my kids know in a nutshell what every single one of their 537 friends' statuses are; the good, the bad, and the ugly.
So how can we, as parents, teach/help our teens (and pre-teens) to keep all this technology/instant gratification in a healthy balance?
It used to be that our homes were relative havens from the ills of the world. Yeah, there was still the tv, video games, and radio that piped their influences into our homes, but compared to the portal of evil that is easily accessed by the internet, it paled in comparison. Pornography, once a backstreet industry, is now stumbled across by innocent children and adults every day on the internet. We have arrived to a place literally foretold in the scriptures, where good is called evil and evil is called good.
As evil influences march more boldly and directly into our daily lives, we need to be aware of the tools that are out there, and be prepared to start utilizing them before we think our kids will need them. It's time to step up our game as parents.
Here are some things to consider:
* First and foremost, keep your computer in a well-trafficked, well-lit area of the home. If you have laptops, make it a non-negotiable requirement that it be used in the public, well-trafficked parts of the home. Our kids do not have their own computers, but if they did they would be on a strict check-in/check-out basis, so that their access would still be limited. When laptops are not in use, keep them hidden away out-of-sight.
* Make all your computers password protected (with a password your kids don't know) and then keep your computers locked every time they're not in use. It's a bit of an inconvenience to have to unlock the computer every time you (or a child) needs to use the computer, but it is the single best thing we've ever done to keep our computer usage in control.
* Parental controls on the computer: Most PC's and Macs have parental control capabilities built into them and my advice is to use them from Day 1, long before your kids are cruising the internet. Make the kids their own computer account (still password protected) where they will have maximum protection 100% of the time they're on the computer.
* A commercial web blocker. There are many wonderful programs on the market, but we use Web Watcher and highly recommend it. It's totally invisible on the computer, so there's no way for them to access it and change the settings themselves. I love that in addition to its powerful content blocker (blocked by categories and alert words you choose yourself), you can also record chats, emails, and even keystrokes. It even utilizes a "smart camera" where it will take screen shots when certain websites are accessed. At this point we rarely check the recorded data, but use it mainly for the content blocking, where in addition to blocking adult/gambling/weaponry/inappropriate websites, we also keep YouTube blocked, since we felt there was way too much unfiltered content available there.
* Cell phone parental controls: I won't lie, there's not a whole lot available here. The few things we did was to not buy a data plan. We have the internet at home and felt like there's no good reason for kids to be perusing the internet when they're out of the house too. Time away from home is the time to be active and be social and internet access does nothing to enhance those experiences. The second thing we did was that we blocked picture mail completely from Spencer's phone (we did this by calling our cell phone provider). We heard too many stories about sexting and people sending inappropriate images through cell phones, that we just felt like it was easier to block the capability altogether rather than to trying to keep up with monitoring what friends and acquaintances might send to him. A friend of mine says that her cell phone company offers a way for the kids' phones to essentially turn off certain times of the day. She sets it so that every night at 9:00pm her son can only receive calls or texts from the parent's home and cell numbers. Sprint did not offer that service, or we probably would utilize that too.
* For cable and satellite TV, take the time to use the parental controls available. Keep all movie and other questionable channels blocked with password protection and DO NOT tell your kids the passwords. It seems obvious, but I know way too many kids (as young as 4-years-old) who know their family's TV password and can access any channel they want. We keep almost all of our channels blocked and change our password every few months to ensure that the kids haven't figured it out. Again, the inconvenience of having to physically come and unlock a channel they want to watch is worth the peace of mind of knowing that when we're out of the house, they can't access the garbage.
*Video game systems have never been a big part of our children's lives, but I know they're very popular in a lot of people's homes. It is my understanding that a lot of these video game systems now have interactive capabilities that gives them access to the internet as well as opportunities to network and chat with other gaming strangers. You need to take the time to be aware of what your system can do and take the appropriate precautions to keep your kids safe there too.
While I believe that parental controls are invaluable tools in this new day and age, if nothing else to prevent most of the accidental garbage getting through, ultimately though the best thing we can do is to teach them well. Talk to them frequently and with openness about the dangers they're facing. Give them examples of situations they may face and talk them through what they can do. And most of all, teach them to recognize and heed the spirit's promptings. All the parental controls in the world installed at your house won't do a bit of good once they walk out your front door and sit down at a friend's computer. They have to be educated.
We have to be educated.
“Our youth … need the help of their parents in resisting [temptation]. They need a tremendous amount of self-control. They need the strength of good friends. They need prayer to fortify them against this flood tide of filth." President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Great Shall Be the Peace of Thy Children,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, 51.
“I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth." D & C 93:40