Digital Citizenship Summit Panel

Torch recently participated on a panel at an elementary school in Nashville, TN as part of their Digital Citizenship Summit. The 3-person panel included Torch CEO Dr. Shelley Prevost, a clinical psychologist, and a police officer from a local cyber crimes unit.

The topic of discussion was one we are all familiar with: how do parents keep their kids safe online?

The two non-Torch panelists both had similar advice: 1) parents should be suspicious of most activities kids participate in online and 2) if your kids are online, manually go through each device and each account on each device several times per week. They urged parents to have the child’s password to all accounts and make an ambush attack a few times a week when the child least expects it. Their mantra was “kids need a parent, not a friend.”

For most parents, these solutions don’t work and they don’t help to create the kind of relationship they want with their kids.. Keeping your kids offline is almost as bad as not teaching them to read; it cripples them, limiting future success. When your kids get their first job, they are going to be working with computers, most likely doing things that you and I don’t know are possible today. Those technical skills are developed today, when they’re young and learning.

As for point 2, most parents don’t have time to monitor every device and account. Even if they did, their children would find ways to hide accounts and content from their parents (let’s be honest, kids are at least 12 steps ahead of us on the tech front). Even worse, constantly confiscating your children’s devices will breed mistrust between you and your children - trust us, we’ve been there. This method of parenting isn’t effective in the long-run.

When we asked the parents in attendance what they thought of these points, the vast majority wanted their children using the internet, but in a healthy way. They wanted to create an ecosystem where their kids could safely use the internet, learn about boundaries and self control, but still harness the good that is out there.

And as far as the mantra that “kids need a parent, not a friend,” we couldn’t agree more. But we also know from decades of psychological theory that kids fare best when parents have high standards for the child, but also operate out of respect for the child’s individual needs. Psychologists call this Authoritative Parenting Style.

Authoritative parents “listen to children's arguments, although they may not change their minds. They persuade and explain, as well as punish. Most importantly, they try to balance the responsibility of the child to conform to the needs and demands of others with the rights of the child to be respected and have their own needs met” (Psychology Today, 2014).

Technology introduces a whole new arena where we have to figure out this dance. How do we balance the safety needs of our kids online with their growing interests in technology and desire for freedom in using it?

At Torch, we believe parents should know what their kids are doing online, but in a way that fosters communication, not mistrust. We believe that the internet offers tremendous amounts of good content and that our kids should feel the safety and freedom to explore it.

What do you think?

Shelley Prevost

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