With the recent changes to how we are all working and living together I can only imagine there are parents once again pushed up against their feelings about their children and the online world. I wanted to share this reminder, that sometimes when we shift what we are looking at we can find a whole new perspective. This is a piece of writing from a few years back when I was helping myself explain how having an all access online pass was actually making my boys safer on the internet.
I’ve been watching this show on MTV called Catfish. The basic premise of the show is that this guy helps people to meet the person they have really been talking to online to see if they are who they say they are. I am fascinated by this show. We are not talking people they have been chatting with for a day or two we are talking years of online conversations, some phone, some exchange of photos but no use of Skype or other video chatting software. This blows my mind because I have yet to see an episode in which the person on the other side of the screen actually is who they say they are. There are bits and pieces of truth but for the most part they are just lying and stringing a person along for a wide range of reasons. The show is done in good faith. No one is made out to be an idiot, the whole story is revealed and they do their best to understand each person’s side of the story. I watch more reality TV then I care to admit publicly, but this show has taken me to a whole different place.
It is likely true that I am most fascinated because I have children who are online in a way I never was as a child. They use technology everyday to connect with peers, make new connections and essentially build relationships. So I see a show like this and it begs me to listen into the fears that chase me around on a regular basis about my children being online. But here is where things differ, growing up online has afforded my sons a whole perspective that I lack.
I know a lot of parents might use the approach to shut it all down when it comes to the internet and the world of trouble one can get into with an all access pass. In our house we have discovered that the all access pass is how they learn to be responsible while online. If something is forbidden it is used in secrecy, in back bedrooms behind locked doors. If something is welcome in the home then the doors for conversation are wide open. My boys and I have a tight relationship and that is how I can trust them online.
My oldest son was ripped off during an in game exchange. He had worked for days to build up his in game currency so he could purchase a rare card. Then some unsavory character came along and promised to duplicate it for him and give him another card in return. My son agreed transferred the card and the guy disappeared with no exchange or return of the card.
My son was devastated. In his heartbreak he turned to his dad and me. This is where we had the biggest chance as parents to impact his future online. The first thing we did was get upset with him. Listened and listened to the story, the anguish and the anger. We did not shame or blame him. We did not tell him what he should have done. We did not revoke any of his online access. We listened with open hearts while he worked through his feelings. Then we talked about how we could support him in regaining what he had lost. We helped him figure out how to report his person for his behavior. We had a brainstorming session on how to avoid such a thing from happening again. He had some great ideas, we did too. It was a collaborative respectful process. You can be sure, if anything looks somewhat suspicious ever again my son is ready to handle it (or to grab us to come in and have a look with him).
My youngest son found himself in a tricky situation online recently. He was added to a call by a friend of a friend and when the conversation went sideways he left the call. But didn’t leave the group conversation. Which meant when I walked into his room the next morning my mind did some serious freaking out when I saw words, names, things way out of what is okay in our house.
Again, what I did next is what informed how my son would be online moving forward. When he woke up I asked him about the conversation. He told me the entire story. I showed him how the conversation was still going on and that it made me uncomfortable. Turns out he doesn’t know how to leave a conversation on Skype and he found the noise of the incoming messages irritating. So I showed him how to leave a conversation on Skype. Then we chatted about adding folks you don’t know as friends and joining conversations with strangers. Again we talked about strategies to help support him. He decided for now he would just come get me before adding a contact so we could decide together if it was a good idea. He trusts me, I trust him and he is online with a safer understanding of the tools he is using.
I do believe if shaming, blaming or punishment had been used in these situations we would have lost the chance to equip the boys with real life tools to handle unfamiliar situations that are bound to crop up online and off-line for that matter.
The world does exist online and that is not going away. As a parent the best thing I can do to help my boys through these tricky waters is to equip them with some skills, the ability to trust their own intuition and a provide whole lot of unconditional support.
For me, when it comes down to it, if my boys trust me to respect their choices, their decisions, their actions then they are going to come to me and share the things they are doing and tell me about the people they are interacting with and bounce ideas off of me. And with in that safe there will be room for me to toss back the sorts of questions and suggestions that will help them avoid a heart breaking 2 year relationship online with a total fraud. So it is by opening up the internet, without restrictions, while unconditionally supporting my children in their mistakes that I can relax my crazy mind and lean into the solid foundation that is our relationship. That is the best thing I can do to keep my boys safe while online.