The new year gives us the opportunity to review and reflect on the past year as parents and begin 2020 with fresh ideas and goals for ways we can support our children as they grow into responsible, caring adults. The most important thing we have to give them is our attention and care enough to monitor their behavior.
The importance of adult supervision came to light recently when Topanga Elementary was targeted with hate speech graffiti and symbols scrawled on a school sign and a banner for a local children’s production. Though not connected, vandalism was also found at Paul Revere Middle School. Who would do this? Are the parents aware of their children’s actions? What are the consequences going to be for the perpetrators, if they are identified, of these crimes?
Young children require parents to be there for their safety, to provide social and educational opportunities, and encourage extracurricular activities; they can’t make their own plans and aren’t aware of their own schedules and social calendars. As children get older, they become aware of their options and begin to voice opinions. In turn, parents can provide them with healthy options and when they fall, they can be there to help them land more softly.
Finding experiences for our children, letting them try out sports, art classes, dance classes, and friendships with different children, gives them a chance to make up their own minds. In doing so, they develop the commitment needed to not only become proficient at their chosen activity, but to gain a group of friends who like the same things.
If our emerging teens become involved in Scouts, sports or arts activities, we will no doubt be involved, minimally as chaperones, but most likely as supporters (financially and as cheerleaders). We will drive kids to their activities, make friends with other parents, and watch eagerly as our teens perform. As involved parents, we are there to support them when an audition doesn’t go well, or a game is lost. We get a peek through the window of our teens’ world and if we are lucky, some of these friendships last a lifetime.
Not all kids have parents who are involved. Many parents work long hours and depend on others to look after their children. Then there are the “latchkey kids” who go home to an empty house. This is the time when social media can sneak in.
Although teens use social media most hours of the day, this is the age when parents begin to lose their grip on the information their children are exposed to. Children and teens who are seeking attention, are lonely, or trying to fit in are susceptible to media that can be inappropriate. It’s a time when parents may have no idea that their children are viewing inappropriate things or communicating with people trying to influence them.
Raising our children to be good citizens who are able to make decisions about right and wrong is difficult when we don’t know where they are physically or virtually.
Parental controls and restricting devices can limit time spent online. More important is not to give a child a credit card and the ability to purchase online, since many online platforms depend on users buying parts of the game. It’s not just about them buying things you would never approve of, it could take a bite out of your bank account. It has happened.
Most dangerous is how easily children can be swayed by the lure of “likes” to their Instagram, Facebook, YouTube accounts, and new social media that pops up all the time. An addiction to affirmation through social media creates a false sense of popularity and, in turn, a need for more.
It’s heartbreaking to see unsupervised children, teens, and young adults who make choices that affect their lives well past childhood. Posting inappropriate photos or text messages can lead to consequences that can impact their future. For example, a teen who is expelled from high school for an offense will have a difficult time attending college or beginning a career and some records follow teens for many years beyond the offense.
How do parents monitor children and teens while still allowing them to grow and experience some freedom? Get to know your children’s friends and their parents. Host play dates, casual get-togethers, and parties at their homes, and spend quality time together with family dinners, vacations and family game nights. Focusing on the reality of family and close friends versus virtual reality and virtual friends, can support teens’ self-esteem development, ability to communicate, and keep parents in the loop.
Keep lines of communication open and relationships built on trust to encourage children and teens to feel comfortable sharing both their achievements and concerns.
If there is a time when you realize you are not sure where your child is, it is time to refocus. In these times, we must always know where our children are and what they are doing. If you need support, contact your child’s teacher, school counselor, school psychologist or pediatrician. These professionals will have referrals for counselors and mental health professionals.
Parenting, in case you haven’t noticed, is a lifetime commitment.