Minimise, Monitor, Mentor – The 3 M’s of Safety in the Media Maze
The greater the exposure, the greater the risk. One of the easiest ways parents can protect their children is by controlling the amount of media exposure. Take the role of gate keeper seriously, and set and enforce limits on media usage. Don’t allow your child to have a mobile phone until it is a necessity. (Social mobility is not a necessity! “Everyone else has one” is not a legitimate reason.) Decide on a justifiable about of internet usage per week and stick to it. Generally, older students may require more internet time for study purposes, but don’t be hoodwinked. Most students have several tabs open at once: 1 for their science research, and 4 for Facebook. It is very hard to monitor this, but having a family agreement about internet usage may help.
Tips for Mobile Phones
- Don’t buy one until necessary, i.e., the student has a part-time job or is allowed to go shopping without parents.
- Set limits on hours of use. Collect mobile phones at night, turn them off, and keep them in the parents’ bedroom. An awful lot of texting goes on way after you believe your teen is asleep. Protecting sleep is a critical factor for the well-being of adolescents (and their families!)
- Be aware of the functions of the phone. Does it have internet access? Does it have a camera? Each added function has its own set of risks and problems. (Ever heard of “sexting?” It’s a bizarre, damaging, and illegal youth phenomenon, in which young people exchange nude pictures of themselves.)
- Teach your child (and model) good mobile phone etiquette and safety.
Tips for the Internet
- Set age appropriate limits of internet usage per day or per week. It can be a blessing to have media-free (as in NO media) days.
- Block out Homework Only times on weekdays. Your family may decide that there is no social networking, games, chat, during those hours (because, as many adults already know: Facebook is a huge time waster!) This one is, admittedly, difficult to enforce, because students will tell you that they have to contact a friend via Facebook to ask a question of another student. In this case, remind them of the thing called a “landline.”
Where media use is concerned, some young people might reckon privacy (from parental eyes—they’re not so worried about anyone else’s) is their right; it is not a right. It is important to establish at a young age that, as their parent, you have the duty to monitor their usage of media. A condition of their use of mobile phones and any other media is their parents’ freedom to access and monitor devices.
It is important to know how to check histories (and more sophisticated records) on the internet. Diarize dates when you check their profiles and contact lists. Most importantly, be active in real time monitoring. Rule numero uno: no computers in bedrooms. Create computer stations in communal areas of the house. Enforce conditions during homework hours that are conducive to study (so students won’t need to escape to their room for quiet study.)
- Fantastic software exists to help parents monitor usage. See the Filters page on the e-Quipped drop-down menu. Accountability makes all the difference.
- Just as you might have a day set aside for bill paying, set aside a day to check profiles, etc. (And do a random spot-check every so often to keep them on their toes!)
- If you consider yourself to be “technologically challenged,” invest in the advice and assistance of an IT professional. We do it with our health and finances, and we should with our children’s safety.
Communication is the key in all areas, including media usage. As much as we parents need to communicate our expectations and boundaries, we also need to listen to our students’ needs. While it is definitely more convenient, a one-rule-fits-all approach is likely to breed resentment in your older children. Because students’ needs change, rules must be flexible enough to allow for our children’s development. If you dialogue with your children, you are better situated to be in tune with their needs and, in turn, to protect them. Discussing needs and rules also provides an opportunity for you to guide your student—and for them to show you what they know about technology!
- 1. Start young! Put the boundaries in place while they are young so they know what the expectations are when as they grow up. Rectifying a media free-for-all and restoring parental authority is an overwhelming (but not impossible!) undertaking. Far better to put it in place early.
- Listen. Yes, you have the right to set the rules, but keeping the channels open for communication may help curtail the temptation to be sneaky. (Remember, they can be sneaky and likely WILL be sneaky, because they probably know more than you.)
- Respect your student for his or her knowledge. Let them show you how to do things.