Kids, even good kids, sometimes make mistakes. Our goal as parents is not to prevent mistakes, but to help kids learn from those mistakes. But if they are scared to tell us about their mistakes, they can get in over their heads and end up making even bigger mistakes to try to cover their trail.
Kids, often times, are motivated to ‘stay out of trouble’. This motivation can be the source of poor decisions because of what a tween or teen perceives as ‘trouble’. Trouble is perceived as parents being angry with them, punishing them or most simply, as disappointing parents.
When our children are interacting online through social media, gaming, chatting, texting, etc. things can go wrong in many ways. It can be through a poor decision made, another person deceiving them, or other children’s poor decisions. More often than not, it can come from curiosity as well as lack of awareness of safe online behavior.
According to research conducted by Online Safety Site:
- 69% of teens regularly receive personal messages online from people they do not know and most of them do not tell a trusted adult about it.
- 60% of teens say they usually respond only to ask who the person is when they receive online messages from someone they do not know.
When things go wrong for tween and teens online, they need to understand what their options are. However, sometimes the most logical and safest option may be the least appealing to them in asking their parents for help.
This is where we as parents HAVE to come in. We need to provide our children with an “escape route.” This needs to happen before our kids have run into an uncomfortable or unsafe situation. The escape route should be discussed as part of the educating and training we provide when we first allow our kids to have a phone. So what is the escape route?
Well, what is the safest thing for kids who encounter a problem online to do? To tell a parent, right? But kids are often more afraid of getting in trouble or disappointing their parents than the unknown danger, for example, of meeting a stranger at a movie theater or Starbucks. This is, in part, because they don’t fully understand just how dangerous this can be.
I talk to my children about the difference between making a safe decision vs. a decision that keeps them out of trouble with me. I tell my children that I never want them to make an unsafe decision because they are afraid of telling me. This is a tough concept kids to understand. But I call it the Golden Ticket or the “get out of jail free card.” Whatever name you give it, it’s an escape route.
It’s simply a promise that if they get in over their head, whether it is at a party, at school, or online, they can tell me and they will not get in trouble. The Golden Ticket also reminds me that my most important responsibility is to ensure their safety, remain calm, and not react in an emotional way.
We also need to tell our kids, before they ever get online or have a phone: This device enables you to talk to anyone, anywhere, at any time. It also allows people to talk to you, and even for them to pretend to be someone they are not. It’s easy for people to fool one another, or use a photo of someone else as their profile picture.
We need to tell them that we think they are smart and will make good choices, but it is easy to be fooled. And if they end up in a situation where they feel trapped or scared, but are afraid to tell us because they fear getting punished, they have a Golden Ticket, a get out of jail free card. To use one time, as their escape route.
An escape route, discussed and explained before it is needed, functions like a fire drill. A fire drill shows kids how to get out of danger. You hold the fire drill not when the building is burning, but way before, just in case. In a calm, focused way, you have kids practice walking out of the building so that if an emergency occurs, they’ll know how to escape.
Every kid will make mistakes when online and using social media. However, there are also times when kids are led down paths that they don’t see until it is far too late. Many times, teenager do not set out looking to meet a stranger online. They trust that people are who they say they are.
Regardless of being tricked or making a bad decision, as soon as my child realizes that he is in a spot that he cannot safely navigate, I want him to make a safe decision. Setting up an escape route before they ever begin using the phone or the Internet will help them to make safe decisions, even if they have made mistakes.