Technology has changed the world. From cloud computing to GPS, from tablets to mobile apps, we are all in the grips of technology, and it is only going to get more entangled in our lives. It is easier for us to talk to our relations on the other side of the world than it is to go and knock on our next door neighbors' door. Well, unless our next door neighbor is on Facebook—then it's the same, but you get the idea.
This presents problems for parents of teenagers. Parents are living in a world very different from the one they grew up in. They want to protect their kids from the dangers of social networking, cyber crime and cyber bullying, but all too often they barely understand those things themselves.
With this changing role of technology, we have also changed our attitude to what we protect ourselves from, and how. We have altered our expectations, and now for some reason it is always someone else’s problem. We take on the mantle of protecting our children on the internet, but in most cases we don't even know how to protect ourselves. It seems too hard, so we put in more and more technology to make it easier.
We install Net Nanny or a similar product, and we rely on our anti-virus and anti-spam products—more and more technology. To me, technology is the problem. I am not saying that technology is bad. What I am saying is that throwing more technology at a problem is never the right solution.
How can parents cope with these new dangers? Here are a couple of ideas that do not involve technology.
“Cyber security is my problem.” Having that as a mantra will change your attitude to the cyber world. The best thing that you can convey to children is that same mantra. Rather than using software to keep them off unsavory parts of the internet, it's better to spend some time supervising their online activity, and explaining the dangers that are out there. When it comes to the cyber world, paranoia and common sense are your friends. In the cyber world, paranoia is not a disease; it is the only attitude to have.
Where you keep your family computer is also very important. If you want to avoid problems like cyber bullying and cybercrime, then allowing teenagers to be alone with their computers is a bad idea. This is also true of mobile phones and tablets to some extent—younger teens don't need around-the-clock access to them. There's a fine line between privacy within the family unit and complete independence, and it shouldn't be stretched too far.
The growing mind is a delicate thing, and to an adult, some of teenagers' problems are miniscule, but to them they are huge. Peer group pressure is a very powerful situation, but telling a teenager that it is not important is the wrong direction for any adult to take. The perpetually mortified and contemptuous comedy character “Kylie Mole” comes to mind in conveying the difference between the teenager's mind and the mind of an adult.
If you react to your teenager's problems with a dismissive attitude, they will be far less likely to confide in you. Conversely, take an understanding attitude, and you're more likely to find out what's going on in their online world—including cyber bullying and other problems.
A holistic attitude is also important. Yes, a holistic solution contains technology, but it also contains a willingness to educate yourself and think before you act (or click). Pass this attitude on to your kids, and you'll be doing them a favor.