Fact: When you talk about the big "S" word at church, SEX, students and adults both get a little or a lot uncomfortable.
In recent years, the after the "talk" follow up questions from parents and guardians seem to revolve around how to navigate and gain more control over the ever-changing and somewhat frightening cyber-space landscape of Facebook, Twitter, cell-phones, internet, game counsels and...etc (there are a number of social apps and connection points). If you are reading this blog and can remember a world before the World Wide Web, you probably understand why such a line of questioning exists. The parents of the pre-www generation kept TV's out of bedrooms and could control phone usage at night (unless you had a phone outlet in your room, it is hard to hide a phone cord trailing into your bedroom). Here are some practical suggestions parents can implement to navigate and gain more control over all that technology "stuff."
- Push back technology. It is alright to tell your student "NO!" Contrary to popular belief of your student, everyone does not have a phone, Facebook account and a computer in their room. Remember, once you say "yes," it is difficult to turn back--how you start is how you finish. And yes, you will have to say "yes" at some point. It is your decision, but today's student has known no other world than a world with cyberspace. Today's student have to learn navigation and control at some point in order to interact with the surrounding culture (I know some may have a problem with that last sentence, but I believe it is a reality and teaching burden for today's parents/guardians).
- Set and enforce limits. Setting limits when the privilege of technology is given is imperative to controlling the impact of cyberspace. From phone to game console, limits on time, types of usage, ratings, acceptable apps are not bad. If you are a "next time you do this I will..." parent and struggle with rule enforcement, get a back bone because the lack of enforcement will come back to haunt you. Oh, taking away a cell phone or other "screens" for a time does wonders for a student's behavior--don't ask me how I know.
- Be a creeper. Be up front with your student and let them know Facebook, Twitter, text messages and other cyberspace platforms and messaging services will be checked often for accountability and appropriateness. Get their passwords! If you have not done this already, put accountability software on your student's (and your) phone and computers. Here are a few resources I recommend you check out: xxxchurch.com and www.covenanteyes.com. This is my opinion, I would do this today. Yes, at some point, your student will be independent of such control. However, until they leave home, I suggest the creeper agreement remain intact.
- Pay attention to ratings and age appropriate platforms. I am amazed at the number of students, under acceptable age, that have a Facebook account or play adult rated games. There is a reason the ratings are given. As you will see below, student do not always know the impact of photos and status updates can have on their present and future (I will avoid the soapbox I would love to jump on at this point).
- Be a student of technology. I am not saying you have to be an expert but you need to be informed to in set and enforce limits (btw: my teenager teaches me a lot about MY iPhone--teenagers are a great source of information). A website I would recommend to help keep up to date on all things culture is Dr. Walt Mueller's at www.cpyu.org. A great resource.
Recently, one of the Hill's crack, veteran student ministers, Darin Hollingsworth, shared an interview he came across on the Today Show. The interview with James Steyer, Talking Back to Facebook, illustrates many of the common sense suggestions above and adds great perspective and insight for parents http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/26184891/vp/47352602#47352602. As you can see, cyber-space navigation and safety is a hot button topic. There are a lot of resources available for parents and guardians--commit to access and practice those resources. It is ALWAYS better to be proactive than reactive or pick up the pieces after a cyber "incident" occurs.