A new post on the parenting and teenagers struggle.

I am an advocate of communication between parents and children. I think it is essential for parents to be informed and to strive to make communication with children smooth and close.

Having made this statement, I regret to say that I have serious doubts about its utility.

At La Piazza we are continually giving advice on how to help our children protect themselves from the Internet Security issues and how much power we have in disiplining children when they are online. Again and again we emphasize how we must talk to them, we try to make them see that the network can magnify any nonsense and multiply it by “n” turning something insignificant into a real tragedy. And unfortunately, there are dramatic cases to prove so. Sometimes we have resorted to lists to advise parents and children: Top 10 tips on Internet safety that every parent should know, The 3 basic ways to prevent sexting, The 6 golden rules for children to use technology safely. Anyway, lists, lists and more lists which in addition to help us structure the post, rank well in terms of search engines, but.. are they at all useful?

The challenges of disciplining children online

Last week the local Police Computer Crime squad gave a talk at my children’s school. They explained in great detail and with real examples the dangers children face on the network. My children returned home surprised and shocked. As if they had never heard their father and I talk about these issues. Well, I guess a uniform can be more imposing yet not imposing enough, because a few days later, several of my middle child (12 years old) classmates were expelled from school for uploading pictures of their teachers to Facebook, obviously without their authorization. My big girl (15 years) changed her Twitter profile picture to one displaying half her body only covered by a small bikini top. Well, I guess it is a quick way to get followers. To top it all, both girls tweet nonstop about every detail of their daily lives, where they are, who with, where they will be going next, upload pictures of themselves, of their brothers …

Friends of mine have a 11 year-old child who blatantly lied to their parents when they caught him bragging on Facebook about the amount of alcohol he had drunk the day before. Despite trying to convince his parents that his Facebook account had been hacked, they began to watch it closely. Result: the child created a second profile where he could publish things “unfit” for parents …

Let’s do a memory exercise. All of us, parents of teens, were teenagers not so long ago. What crossed our then young and reckless heads? The same thing as it crosses their minds. The thing is that parents are not aware of anything. Teens know exactly what they need. No one understands them. They found the love of their lives and they will love him/her forever. And above all, what really matters are friends. Best friends. True. Those to whom they tell everything and the only ones who understand.

Therefore, what is the point of insisting that not everything on the Internet is true, that they have to be careful, that it is not good to give their location coordinates with great detail, that they should not upload photos from home – geolocation enabled of course, who ever remembers to disable it? -, and so on to complete a list of 10, 20, 30 points pointing out the infinite dangers of the network.

Parents have to resign and be aware that those who really influence their children are others. If Stephanie Meyer, famous for her Twilight books or any other writer popular among teenagers and young adults wrote a novel in which the central character was a teenager who was bullied in the network and driven to suicide, tragically like Amanda Todd’s trance, the impact and exemplary positive consequences would probably be vastly superior to any maternal / paternal advice to prevent them from sending “sexy” pictures  to their current “boyfriends”. Or imagine any of the characters in Glee going through something like what Tim Ribberink  – the poor old Dutch boy who committed suicide after years enduring jokes online about his sexuality – experienced. If the actor or actress managed the problem correctly, the beneficial effect for many teens scared of their sexuality would be awesome.  As parents, one thing must be clear, our children will not tell us anything until it’s too late and therefore, they will not follow any of our tips, as these are intended to restrict what they see as their own freedom.

What is left then? Using spying programs?

My position is always the same. This type of software should only be used as a last resort when there is reasonable suspicion that something serious may be happening. All there is left for us parents is to be very alert to any changes in behavior and never lower our guard. We must explain that these issues constitute a crime and must be denounced. And if in spite of all, they are already in trouble, we will give them all the understanding, help and support they need, both to get out of the mess and to teach them how to make it in this complicated cyber world we live in.