Being a parent of a social media tween has been exhausting. There are literally hundreds of ways people can interact with technology and even though my daughter only has Instagram there are still several ways to communicate on that one app alone.
I feel like I am in an airplane nosediving towards the ground and I have to figure out how to fly the plane or end up in pieces.
Am I the only parent that feels this way?
Raising my daughter has been easy until social media decided to suck her into the electronic vortex. It has me constantly scrambling, asking questions, and being extra attentive to my daughter. If it didn’t take a village to raise a child before it most certainly does now.
I want to thank Roshni for sending me this wonderful piece to share. I really love how she engages her son calmly in discussion.
We can’t hide our kids from the cyberbullies but we can train them to be warriors against them.
Online games : 3 ways to not let this lead to a clash of generations
“It’s a new world, Golde!”
Well, I suppose every generation feels the same way about the next, doesn’t it?! As I mentioned before, and a wise friend noted too, it’s all good and often nostalgia for its own sake is not the best thing! We just do our best to adapt ourselves with the changing times, to adopt the good and to be wary of the yet-unknown! Which brings me to the topic of online games!
I have always been fairly confident about how sensible my kids are and we have always discussed safety in the context of talking to strangers. My kids know the balance of giving out unnecessary personal information to strangers versus giving out contact information to people of authority (say, policemen etc) if they are lost. Since my older son uses the internet more and more for his schoolwork and also to watch Youtube videos, he also knows never to reveal his name, age, and any kind of contact information to anyone online. Since he does not yet have any social media account and hardly ever uses his email account, he views all online activity as public and therefore has been quite careful.
Which is why it was a shock to me how close he came to being cyberstalked.
Big A started playing Clash of Clans a year ago and, in my naivete, I initially did not know that this was an online game. That is, you could connect to groups of people also online and play the game as a multiplayer game. I only came to know when he told me shortly after starting, that several people in his class had formed a group to play the game. I enquired about the privacy settings of the group, but he didn’t know. I left it at that, again reiterating that online he was not to give out his real name (he has a gaming name), his age or any contact info; not even to his friends.
A few weeks ago, Big A came to me all excited. He had made a new online friend. What?!! That was my reaction in my head, but I kept a straight face and asked him what he meant. Apparently, his school friends had not been very responsive to him in the chat window (and this was the first time I came to know of a chat session), so, out of frustration, he had left the group and joined another group!! Though I could feel the blood rushing to my head, I asked him calmly to continue. So, he happily chirps about it, that at first, the people of that group were mean to him since he was an outsider joining their group, but one guy stuck up for him and was “really nice!!”
At this point, I raised my eyebrows, and I guess he realized that he was slowly getting into trouble, and he faltered. I was still calm because I wanted to know all the facts.
“Who is he?”, I asked.
“His name is Brian; he’s a teenager and he stuck up for me when the others were being mean! And, then we chatted”
“I see! And, what did you talk about?”
“He asked me about myself but I remembered not to give him my name or contact info, just like you told me not to………..I did tell him my age though because he asked and I thought it would be rude to say no since he was being so friendly”
I closed my eyes for a few seconds. At this point, Big A panicked because he probably remembered in a flash everything I and The Husband had told him about cyberstalking. I could see his agitation and so, I put my arm around him and told him it was okay; no harm done; but he would have to leave this new group and go back to the old one if he wished to continue playing this online game. Big A nodded and asked whether I thought that ‘Brian’ was a serial killer! After choking back a giggle, and Lord knows I needed that deflection in the tension building up in me, I said that I had no idea but we only had ‘Brian’s’ word about his identity. It was possible that he was a teen, but it was also possible that he was not. I then looked Big A in the eye and told him that from this point onward, he was to very strictly follow the rule of interacting with only those people whom he knew in real life.
Big A returned back to the old group; he himself messaged the group leader to make sure the group settings were set to ‘private’ and he continues to play the game. Afterwards, I learned from him that ‘Brian’ had asked for access to this group but had been refused by the group leader, which does nothing to reduce my paranoia about this guy.
From this experience, I learned two things about keeping my kids safe in the online world:
They’re smarter and savvier than us
For parents who think that ‘friending’ their kids on Facebook and following them on Twitter helps in monitoring them, I say that we are just fooling ourselves. I’m sure most of us know how to place certain friends in lists, thereby blocking them from viewing our activity without their realizing! Remember that poor girl who committed suicide after being cyberbullied? Her mom had deleted all her social media accounts, and yet, she joined another, which her mom, in fact, no other adult, apparently knew about! We can’t keep up with the pace of how social media is evolving! And, if we tried to, that would probably be the only thing we would be doing the whole day! Which is wholly unrealistic! Which brings me to my second point:
Keep the lines of communication open
I can’t tell you how much I would have liked to yell at my son that day! It was difficult to understand how an intelligent person like him could, at the spur of the moment, be so naive! But, I also realized that he is sensitive and therefore, vulnerable. Talking down at him and showing my anger would not have helped and I may not have got the complete details of exactly how much information he had released. It took a lot of self-control but I think I did myself the biggest favor by demonstrating to my son that he could come and talk to me about anything, even if he knew he had done something wrong or dangerous or just plain stupid, and I would not judge him.
Don’t ban or restrict them from playing online games
It’s really no point otherwise! I could have deleted his account for this online game but I have no way of figuring out if Big A joined with another name or another online game. I cannot monitor him at all times and, as my boys grow older, I will have less and less access to what they do! I’ve got to believe that whatever I’ve taught them is drilled into their heads. In the above case, where it didn’t? See my point #2! There I have it in my most infinite wisdom; my mom advice, which will be harder and harder for me to stick to, I am sure, as my kids approach their teen years and do the most harebrained things that I would never dream they would be capable of doing! Time will only tell how many grey hairs I get out of it!
In the meantime, I leave you with more helpful and authoritative sources:
10 things every parent must know about cyberbullying – Huffington Post and Common Sense Media
Cyberstalking by the NCSL
Helpful tips about what to do if you are cyberstalked by CyberAngels
Roshni was born and brought up in Calcutta, India. She met her husband while they were doing their PhDs and the two set off for the sunny shores of California soon after. She has two rambunctious, mouthy boys who fight during the day, but then whisper and giggle with each other at night long after she’s told them to “go to sleep already!!” She blogs about her Indian American life, and pretty much any other topic, at Indian American Mom. Even though she keeps swearing off social media, you can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.