Contributed by Dr. Tim Jordan
Many parents stand by feeling helpless, having no clue how to assist their daughters with the ever-changing drama and technologies. I believe there is a lot parents can do to support girls to both handle and prevent online bullying. Here are five ways parents can have an impact.
Being able to have a cellphone and getting on social networking websites is a privilege, not a right. And I think girls should earn this opportunity. I would let them know they must show you a high level of maturity and responsibility with previous technology, e.g. TV, internet, video games, etc. If they show over many weeks and months that they have followed through with agreements about the amount of time on these and are making good choices about appropriate websites and programs, then they have earned the right to try the next level of responsibility and device.
Before receiving a phone or being allowed to get on new websites, parents should educate children about online civility, ethics and what is and is not appropriate. I would go through the websites and inform them about what is there, how they will use it and what restrictions parents have. Discuss things that are not suitable to say or display, including issues involving friendship conflicts and dramas.
Let girls know up-front that you will be monitoring their websites and texts, in essence "spying" openly. Tell them you won't be checking every day or checking each message but that you will go onto their websites periodically to make sure they are using their devices correctly. It's no different than going downstairs off and on during a party your daughter throws in your basement or making sure a parent will be present all night at a get-together at someone else's house. You are making sure they are safe at a time when they need boundaries.
Make specific, clear agreements about usage — amount of screen and technology time, what websites are OK to be on, who is appropriate for them to be connecting with online and where they will park their gadgets at bedtime. I would be sure this is an open conversation with a lot of give and take so that your daughter feels she has been heard and her needs have been met as well as yours. Be clear that her online behavior and willingness to follow the agreements will decide whether she will be able to do so going forward.
Too many parents fall short in holding girls accountable to the agreements. If you find your daughter has broken the contract, have a heart-to-heart talk about why she didn't follow through and what she will do next time so she doesn't make the same error. There are good reasons why girls make mistakes online. They usually involve having a lack of skills and courage to handle friendship issues as well as their incredible need to make and keep friends.
Use these slipups as opportunities to listen, understand, empathize, educate and build skills. If missteps are repeated, then she has shown you she isn't ready for that level of technology. Your daughter may need time to mature, become more responsible and less impulsive and develop more skills. Once she has shown you over time, i.e. months, that she has gained this wisdom and reliability, you can try it again. I encourage girls to preemptively show parents mistakes other girls make online to demonstrate that they "get it."
Parents, you are not powerless! Take charge, stay on top of new technology and follow through with the agreements you make with your daughter. Having a close relationship allows you to have meaningful conversations, create real win-win agreements and makes it easier to hold them accountable. Talk with the parents of your daughter's friends so that you have a united front. Also, a good working relationship with the school will make it easier to handle out-of-school bullying in conjunction with school.
About the author:
Dr. Tim Jordan is a leading expert on parenting girls from ages 2 to 20. He is a developmental and behavioral pediatrician, international speaker, author, media and school consultant. He has studied and worked with girls for more than 25 years in his counseling practice, and at his retreats and summer camps. He often speaks about girls and their journey through adolescence, relationship aggression, friendship, cliques and bullying, and the best practices for parenting girls. Dr. Tim grew up in a family of eight children. Being a brother to five younger sisters was the start of his caring and interest in helping girls and the issues they face. For more information, visit www.drtimjordan.com.
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