Journey to Healing and Joy

KSW5

How will I know when my child is ready to take on more independence and responsibility? How will I know they are ready to take on a task with confidence & success? Should I give more internet freedom? If so, when? Like many things, because each child, family, & set of dynamics vary from one household to the next, the answer to all of these is, “It depends.”

As parents, it’s easy to get caught up in “helicopter parent” mode at times. We love our children & desire to spare them the grief we have seen in others or have experienced for ourselves. We’ve touched on how to Educate, Protect, & Be a Safe Place in previous newsletters in this series. The next step requires all of them working together as we prepare our child for independence. Truth is, as much as we may want to, we won’t always be there to shield, protect, & educate. Our kids are growing up whether we like it or not. They will begin making their own adult decisions, good or bad. The time we have to impress on them the hard-earned wisdom we’ve gained is ticking away. We don’t want to be overburdensome & see our efforts backfire as children who may feel suffocated rebel the first chance they get. We also don’t want to give them too much freedom too soon & go on about the rest of our life, only to realize little Johnny got into a LOT more trouble than we imagined could be possible. Where is the balance?

Read more: Kids Safety Series (Week 5 of 6): Prepare for Independence

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Kids are naturally curious. It’s a beautiful thing, really. My daughter just turned 3 & has fully entered the “Why?” stage. If you’ve ever had or been around kids this age for any length of time, you may remember how sometimes that curiosity can drive even the most patient person nuts some days! Even in the crazy three million, six hundred sixty-five thousand, three hundred twenty-seven “Why?”s in the first few waking hours of the morning, before you’ve even had a chance to finish that now cold cup of coffee, & your eyes begin bulging out of your head, & your head might even begin this little crazy twitch thing to the side from trying to keep up with all the words & questions coming out of this tiny little being that only a few short years prior was silently gurgling away in the womb *breath*….yes, even then, their curiosity is truly a beautiful thing.

If you know me, it doesn’t take long to find out I. Love. Kids. I love seeing the world through their eyes. I love teaching them & getting to see the lightbulb click over their head, their eyes go wide & their mouths drop open at the wonders they take in. And truly, there are wonders to be discovered! So many little things our adult minds can overlook or take for granted…to a child, they are a gem & a treasure. Unfortunately, not all the world is structured to honor a growing child’s natural curiosity.

Read more: Kids Safety Series (Week 4 of 6): Be a Safe Place

Devices

 

Does your child have access to a computer? Cell phone? Tablet? Video game system? Or other device that connects them to the internet? Do they have friends & family that do? (Spoiler alert: If you’re reading this, the answer is “yes.”) Just like many things in life, the internet comes with a plethora of good as well as bad. It allows us to connect with friends & family in ways we never could before, cutting through hundreds or thousands of miles & oceans between us. It contains a wealth of information at our fingertips & gives many a place to speak their mind in ways they would have not felt freedom to, otherwise. That’s not even scratching the surface, but I think you get the picture. If you’re like me, you desire your children to get all the good out of technology, while leaving as much of the bad behind as possible. While it is not feasible (or healthy) to forever keep our children in a secluded & perfectly safe bubble, rest assured there is more we can do than throw them to the wolves, cross our fingers, & hope for the best.

Read more: Kids Safety Series (Week 3 of 6): PROTECT

If you’re like many parents, at least at some point in your parenting, you may have found yourself crossing your fingers thinking, “How long can I put off having THE SEX TALK?” For some, the mere thought sends immediate sweat beads to glisten your foreheads. You may think, “But I want to keep them innocent! And young!” If this is you, welcome to the crowd. You’re in good company. However, that doesn’t negate us from the reality check we all need to come to grips with. If you need to, sit down, find a paper bag to breath into, I’ll give you a minute…because reality is, the world is racing to beat you to it. That’s right, the world would LOVE to teach, train, & equip your kids in ALL things sex. Rather than, “How long can I put off having THE TALK?”, perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is, “How much do I trust society to teach, train, & equip my child’s sexuality?” In a world that not only capitalizes on, but also glamourizes sex scandals, pornography, & a plethora of other sexually promiscuous behaviors, can I tell you right now that, let unchecked, our children are NOT in good hands?

You may have read last week’s intro newsletter to our Kids Online Safety series, where I mentioned a couple of the sneaky ways the world has been aiming to steal our kids’ innocence right from under our noses (If not, you can view that newsletter here. We also invited you to join us in our ongoing online discussion via Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram where we’ve been posting discussion questions from our readers. Feel free to get in on the conversation. Send us your questions, hear from others, & add your “2 cents” to the conversation.

Today we’re focusing on the topic of EDUCATE.

There’s no better place to start than to

1) EDUCATE YOURSELF:

Do you know what your kids are doing online? Do you know what their favorite apps & games are? Which take up most of their time? Do you know how to work these apps? What are the minimum age requirements for these games & apps? Which ones come with community chat features? Which link to social media? Which apps provide loophole links to unfiltered internet? How much time are they spending on the internet? All of these and more are good questions to ask ourselves.

With Summer upon us, the number of online hours kids spend online goes up, & so does the risk of encountering an online predator or inappropriate online content. In fact, Ofcom.org reports that “17% of 8-11s and 29% of 12-15s who go online say they have ever seen something online that they have found worrying or nasty; 45% of 12-15s who go online say they have seen hateful content online in the last year, an increase since 2016;…12% of 12-15s say they have been bullied on social media, equal to the number who say they have been bullied face to face.”1 Ofcom.org goes on to report “a quarter of 12-15s say they have ever been contacted online by someone they don’t know, and one in ten say they have ever seen something of a sexual nature that made them feel uncomfortable, either online or on their mobile phone.”1 Add onto that that “over 80% of children get exposed to porn unintentionally,”2 according to onlineschools.org.

Media lives by age. a snapshot

If we’re going to take on the responsibility of protecting & training our kids in the online world just as we do in the offline world, we must be willing to become at least somewhat tech savvy. While some parents are already on this, others may find this task more daunting. If you fall into the latter category, a way to get started is by inviting your kids to educate you on what they know. Spend time poking around on your kids’ devices. Step into their world. Try playing their game with them. While doing so, you may want to take special notice of social media links & chat arenas & what is going on there. You might be surprised at what you find.

Also, be aware that our children are targets. Just as we warn our kids of coming in contact with a “bad guy”, “sneaky people”, “stranger danger”, or what have you, we also need to be mindful of the same kind of characters preying on our children through the internet & mobile devices, even as we see them tucked away “safely” in their beds or lounging on the couch next to us. The dangers are still very real & can have long term, damaging effects on their lives, health, & the health of their families. In all actuality, pornography addiction is no respecter of age or persons. The younger the consumer the more money is made. In fact, it is estimated that globally, the porn industry brings in $97 billion annually. About $12 billion of that is from the U.S. alone3. Hook them young & they’ll be lifelong customers, right? Who do you want to get to them first? Which brings us to…

2) EDUCATE YOUR CHILDREN:

It is not good enough to simply know for ourselves; we educate ourselves so we can best educate & lead our children. The world-wide web is a double-edged sword, a tool for good and evil. Our children should be familiar with the good, but should also beware of the danger there, as well. There are several ways to do this:

One way we can address this topic of internet safety is to capitalize on what we see & hear. Integrate online & personal safety in everyday conversations as appropriate: News, school, outside conversations, social media (#metoo, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby...), etc. can all become talking points of conversation between ourselves & our child as it relates to safety. We may also decide to carve out special times to focus & discuss it. If you’re not sure where to start, consider using a book or online video you have screened beforehand and believe would be helpful.

Keep in mind that kids don’t like lectures. We can be sensitive to this as we gauge what they can & can’t handle. Try breaking things up with questions (i.e., Why do people prey on others? What is the difference between a real-life friend and an online friend?) Another thing we can do is to capitalize on our kid’s questions. Anticipate personal questions they may ask about us & be prepared with an honest, but age-appropriate answer. We can warn our kids to beware of online predators pretending to be someone they’re not. If they use social media or chats, make sure they know what information is personal information not to be shared online & what kind of information they should use a high level of caution when sharing online.

What is appropriate safety discussions for what ages? Each child, family, & set of circumstances is unique, so this will depend a lot on parental discretion. We know our child better than most, if not all. Consider their maturity level, level of exposure, & their natural curiosity. Kids often pick up on things we assume go over their heads. For all ages, find out what they already know. Here’s some helpful reminders when educating our child(ren). Keep in mind this timeline is not concrete, but rather, a loose guideline that may vary based on your circumstances & child’s maturity:

Ages 2-6:
*Find out what they know.
*This age is very literal.
*Keep it simple. Tell them what is good & bad.
*Use proper names for body parts.
*The bathing suit area is private.

Ages 7-12:
*Find out what they know.
*Address their curiosity.
*Teach them what to think about sex.
*Look for positives.

Teens:
*Find out what they know.
*Encourage open dialogue.
*They don’t like lectures.
*Teach them how to think about sex.
*Admit when you just don’t know4.

If you have young children, rather than waiting to play damage control on sexual issues & internet safety, why not take the plunge & beat the world to it?
In later weeks, we’ll hit on these next topics:

2) Protect
3) Be a Safe Place
4) Prepare for Independence
5) Recognize the World They Are Inheriting

Search for A Circle of Joy & join in on our online discussion surrounding Kids Online Safety on social media via Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram.

As we’ve studied the available resources & tools that can equip parents to understand the problem & address it in the most up-to-date way possible, we’ve encountered an array of groups offering such resources. Some are developed by religious denominations, & others by individuals and other organizations, but all are meant to help you parent in this fast-paced, & sometimes dangerous technological age in which we live. Here’s a small listing of a few of those groups as well as additional resources suggested by our readers…

In this together,
~ Brittany, ACircleOfJoy.com
 

1Source: Ofcom.org

2Source: onlineschools.org

3Source: NBC News

4Source: Common Sense Media

Kids Safety (Week 1)

A single mom, doing all she can to provide for, educate, & protect her little ones, has a six-year-old son with his own cell phone. Not her decision. Not her preference. But so goes life at this stage for many split family households. At least the parents agree to put strict parental controls on the phone. No browsing the internet. No downloading unauthorized apps. Time restrictions. No giving out phone numbers to anyone mom or dad doesn’t approve. At this point, one may feel they deserve a good pat on the back. Perhaps a, “Great job protecting your kid!” Or possibly even a, “Way to go being a responsible parent! You earn five gold stars!” Heh. Wouldn’t that be nice? The sad truth is anyone who’s mildly tech savvy will tell you that none of those are a guarantee of safety. 

Any feelings of safety came crashing down the night this mom stumbled upon this text message on her sweet, innocent six-year-old’s phone:

“Hi.........!!!!
Iam Nikky (23) live in your street. Looking for a sex partner in the neighborhood. Therefor I’ve a picture on here::>[xxxxxxxxxxxxxx](no need cost) you also got my contact number there if you wanna give me a call. I guess if you’re attracted to me. I will be talking to you soon.............” 


This. I wish I could say this story was the rare exception, or even as bad as it gets. Unfortunately, as we become a more technologically advanced society this kind of thing is becoming more the norm rather than the exception. And this instance is on the mild side. There are countless stories  like these & worse that flood chat rooms, facebook pages, churches, & organizations like A Circle of Joy each & every day. Parents, grandparents, young adults, & even youth crying out for help, for some kind of solution as they grieve the loss of innocence taking place in their lives or in the lives of the ones they love.

No doubt, technology is moving things at an alarming rate. What used to take some effort to obtain is now literally at even your preschooler’s fingertips...one tap away from being exposed to x-rated content that would make our great grandparents turn over in their grave. Content that could stay with these precious children for a lifetime, even grow into an addiction or lead to illegal behaviors. 

So HOW DO WE PROTECT OUR CHILDREN from this madness? What recourse do we, as the responsible guardians, have in this battle we might feel we are already losing?

Take heart, dear friends. You’re not alone. We’re in this together.

For the next 5 weeks we will be opening up our social media floor, so to speak, for an open discussion as we post questions related to each of these topics:

1) Educate
2) Protect
3) Be a Safe Place
4) Prepare for Independence
5) Recognize the World They Are Inheriting


If you were paying attention to the news, recently, you may have stumbled across the SnapChat fiasco (a picture app used by kids everywhere), where a “Cosmo After Dark Discovery Channel” was recently added to the app on May 18th. “Cosmo After Dark” described itself as “an X-rated weekly edition that goes live every Friday at 6 p.m. and is exclusively dedicated to all things hot and h*rny.

This addition gave unguarded access to pornographic material to any curious soul, & there was no way for parents to turn off the feature.

ProtectYoungEyes.com was among the first to bring this to public attention. Then a rare, and dare I say even historic, event happened. As this news story became viral with thousands of social media shares, an UPROAR began to surface from adults everywhere! And just like that, it was confirmed on May 24th, mere days after this addition to SnapChat launched, Snap, Inc issued a statement notifying the public that they have discontinued that feature on their app!

If there was ever a time to get in the know & get involved to protect our children from internet dangers, the time is NOW! We need not sit back & accept the cards of society as they fall onto unsuspecting future generations. There IS something we can do!

Please join us on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram to get in on the conversation!

Looking forward to hearing from you,

~Brittany
ACircleOfJoy.com