We sat down with Maryellen P. Mullin, Founder of San Francisco Family Therapy who has a demonstrated history of working in the mental health care industry, to talk about raising kids in the digital age. Below are her top 5 parent tips to keep kids safe and smart.
1. Be Curious
So, how many parents actually know the ins and outs of smartphones, secret apps and social media sites? Not many. How many parents know when and how kids go online? And, where do your kids go when they are online? If you dropped them off at a mall, you’d have a basic idea of what is in the mall. It’s no difference with going online…except you would never knowingly drop your kids off at a sex club. So, be the student – be willing to learn and put in some time to understand the world your kids experience.
2. Eat Dinner Together
Watch family screen habits. Watch your habits with television/screens, time devoted to work or other things that absorb time that could be spent to connect with each other at home. Make sure you model “together time.” The easiest way – sit down for a meal, without any distractions.
Invest in spending time with your kid and engage them in the meal process, which includes conversation, even it if is only a few times a week.
3. Be the Driver
Want to know what is really going on with your kids? Put them in the backseat and offer to drive…drive to practice, drive your kid with her/his friends and provide pick ups. Always offer when you can…be the parent that drives…and listen.
Listen and don’t intrude, even when you want to ask a question. Later, when your kid is not with peers, gently ask about something then or bring it up in a neutral way. Earn their trust by not passing judgement, but reflecting what you hear and asking how they feel about it. “I wonder how you felt when your friend said xxx.”
4. Parent in a “pack,” with a “pact”
Stick together with other parents. Find at least one, if not more, parents who support staying in touch, talking, driving each others’ kids and who also set reasonable limits. I know of a few parents who in middle school made a pact, an agreement, with each other to support the kids together. These kids, now in high school, benefit from parents who wanted them to gain more independence, with support and limits.
For example: they will not drop off the kids at a party if the situation is questionable. They will text the parent group when they do the drop off or pick up.
If one parent can’t reach their kid, they text the parent of a kid in the group. That parent texts their kid to get the friend to call home.
They share information with each other – and they don’t use it against their kids. They ask when friends are having problems; they listen to the kids who come for dinner. They all give rides. They stay in the background, supporting the growth of increased independence by providing a safety net of adult background support…so it’s there when needed.
5. Use tech together. Talk. Plan.
Don’t expect a kid without self-control to manage screen usage on his or her own yet…you wouldn’t hand a kid 10 candy bars and say, “Eat just one,” would you?
Learn tech, talk about it, observe it in play and use it together. Talk with your kids and let others talk for you. Guess what, the parents I see who are NOT struggling, all have one thing in common: they talk to their kids, and they hold fast to a plan, enforcing agreed upon and reasonable rules about devices use in the home. You can, too!