One of the uniquenesses of working with students is living in the awkward space between being a trusted friend of students and a trusted friend of their parents. In our student ministry, we really seek to live in that space (albeit awkward) because we believe itʼs in the best interests of the students that we do so.
This difficulty is felt most impressively when we start talking technology, social networking, and studentʼs online activity. Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are the most well-known sites. But students buzz from one site to the other like bees hopping from flower to flower. How can any parent keep track of all that info?
1. Get Informed
As a parent, you would never let your twelve year old travel from city to city by themselves. You would never let them wander a movie theatre and take in whatever movie they choose. You wouldnʼt let them sit in a room with complete strangers for hours on end. Yet this is exactly what students are doing online. They can consume whatever media they choose, with whomever they choose, whenever they want.
You “not knowing anything about” these sites is no excuse. Youʼre the parent. Get informed.
You should have a social networking site to match each of your son or daughterʼs. If for whatever reason you decide not to, then you should have your son or daughterʼs password so you can monitor their activity. Learn about the well-known sites like Instagram (which is custom-designed for mobile devices), but also read up on lesser-known sites such as SnapChat, Tumblr, and Ask.fm. Also donʼt neglect more video driven sites like YouTube, which stores their browsing history inside a password-protected account.
2. Set Clear Expectations for Use
Donʼt let your teenager decide what responsible use of their device is. Whether itʼs a laptop, tablet, or cell phone, you set the ground rules for how itʼs used. Pull your student in to the decision making process and ask such questions as these:
- What is a reasonable amount of time that can be devoted each day to interaction online?
- How late is too late to send or receive text messages?
- When are some times when all technology should be off-limits (hold yourself and your spouse to this standard as well)?
- Share some examples of inappropriate sites/interaction that you disapprove of.
It is your job to set and enforce these expectations. You are the parent.
3. Interact with Your Phone Company
For a small fee, you can work it out with your cell phone carrier to limit the times when a mobile device can be used. You can block certain phone numbers, allow certain kinds of interactions, and give windows of time when service wonʼt be available. There are tons of applications for this service.
If privileges are taken away from a student, for instance, you can still allow your son or daughter to carry their phone for emergencies, while blocking other interaction. Or if there is a case of bullying going on at school, you can block that personʼs number from being able to text or call your student.
Yes, there is a monthly charge. But instead of thinking of it as an added expense, think about it as an investment. You are teaching your child responsible use, keeping them safer, and controlling their habits in a way that serves their best interests.
4. Subscribe to a Social Networking Monitoring Service
I encourage you to visit http://www.familysignal.com (click the logo below to visit the site) and sign up for itʼs service. In a streamlined, simple manner, it will send you e-mail or text alerts when any inappropriate behavior is detected on any of your childʼs social networking sites. It monitors Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for references to drug use, alcohol, sexual content, or bullying. And it does this in real time.
Again, there is a cost associated with the service, but it is small ($4.95/unlimited kids) and it is worth every penny, isnʼt it? It monitors sites for you when you and your child are away from one another. Think of it as an online bodyguard when you can’t be present or aware.
It is a wild world out there. It is hard to keep up. But that is no excuse not to try. These are our children. We should make every effort to protect them online (from others and from themselves) with the same diligence that we would use in “real” life.
As the lines between the online world and the offline world continue to blur, we do ourselves and our children a terrifying disservice when we ignore this important topic.
This is a huge topic. There’s much I haven’t mentioned here. I’m likely to say more in future posts. Huge shout out to my wife Kari and my friend Brian for heads up on some of the sites and services mentioned in this post. Would love additional tips, questions, and interaction in the comment feed below. We’re all in this together! Opinions may differ, but conviction to step in and lead should unite all parents. What do you do to keep your family safe? Where have you failed? What are some steps you’d recommend?