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The Big Answer


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Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens

a book by Nancy E. Willard

(our site's book review)

Willard believes in setting limits and imposing discipline. But she says that “as children grow, we allow them more freedoms, under conditions that support safe and responsible behavior. We continue to discuss behavioral expectations and impose limits. We also remain ‘hands-on’—asking questions such as Where are you going? What are you doing?” She advises us to impose a negative consequence for failure to abide by our expectations.

The author says that younger kids need strict Internet use limits. Teens need a lot less strict limits but negative consequences should be used when rules are violated. Older teens have hopefully learned how to use the Internet responsibly and they should be able to consistently make good choices on their own.

Our young need to be protected from cyber-bullying, and kept out of sites that support suicide, cutting, anorexia, gambling, hate groups, hacking, and drug use, as well as other risky behaviors (unprotected sex).

Keep kids out of sites that support risky behaviors (such as unprotected sex)
Keep kids out of sites that support risky behaviors (such as unprotected sex)

They need to be warned about—and informed about—scams, identity theft, malware, spam, viruses, and spyware. They need to be warned about—and informed about—copyright infringement.

Kids are expected to have to earn the right to have a computer with Internet access in their bedrooms around the age of sixteen if certain expectations have been met related to grades, work, chores, and time with family and friends. Willard has created a "Parent-Teen Internet Use Agreement," that spells out Internet use expectations and agreements. It is in this book’s (Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens) appendix.

Parents can impose necessary consequences, such as moving the computer from the child’s room to the family room, if their child's behavior does not meet certain expectations
Parents can impose necessary consequences, such as moving the computer from the child’s room to the family room, if their child's behavior does not meet certain expectations

She says that parents can impose necessary consequences, such as moving the computer from the child’s room to the family room, if their child's behavior does not meet certain expectations.

The Internet has wonderful as well as terrible potentials—as does parenting, so keep kids safe and informed
The Internet has wonderful as well as terrible potentials—as does parenting, so keep kids safe and informed

Alfie Kohn, who wrote Unconditional Parenting, would see the computer and Internet issue in a bit different light. He would express his concerns that the child be safe and say no to what is likely to be unsafe for the child. He'd change the environment in order to avoid the No word, such as having the kid’s environment when computing be in the family room rather than in the kid’s room, if safety concerns surface. He doesn’t have many rules or parenting recipes in his books, preferring to have parents learn to be need fillers rather than police or judges concerned with making kids “behave.” He doesn’t believe in imposing negative consequences for “misbehavior.”

Alfie Kohn would change the environment in order to avoid needing to use the No word
Alfie Kohn would change the environment in order to avoid needing to use the No word

For example, with regards to such things as cyber-bullying, he'd say it’s better to use the “respect and trust they've cultivated by loving their kids unconditionally,” using reason and persuasion to explain how doing this thing rather than that thing is likely to affect other people. A cyber-bullying RULE, on the other hand, must be backed up with some form of punishment when it’s violated although Willard doesn’t define logical consequences as punitive. The former, logical consequences, uses compassion, trust, and communication, while the latter, punishment, uses mostly fear of consequences. It can be a quick and easy solution and parents find it quite pragmatic to use fear this way.

But the Kohn style of parenting is simply better parenting. Fear-based parenting (regardless of whether the fear is of an authoritarian’s spankings or an authoritative parent’s logical consequence) is quicker and is the main choice of most parents since most parents work and haven’t time for Unconditional parenting. So they give what time they have and let the babysitters or daycare centers do the rest. Unconditional parenting, on the other hand, which uses the “respect and trust they've cultivated by loving their kids unconditionally,” is time-consuming and it requires parenting knowledge that most parents don’t seem to find time to acquire.

In today’s climate, it would require a major miracle for children to get blessed with two well-informed, parenting-wise, compassionate parents who both have the time and emotional nature to bestow the gift of Unconditional parenting on their kids. Time is money and money is time. Crude as these realities seem, they are true. Tens of millions of parents have to choose between the necessities of food/clothes/shelter/medicine and the “luxury” of being able to spend lots of quality time with their kids as well as having time for studying books on Unconditional parenting or P.E.T. or Coloroso’s parenting style Inner Discipline. Good parenting takes study, work, dedication, insight, compassion, and time. It’s a crime one of these methods is not taught to all high-schoolers as part of the curriculum so young parents aren't caught scrambling to catch up after the fact.

Working parents do not get to spend as much quality time with their kids as they'd like, or as much as the kids need
Working parents do not get to spend as much quality time with their kids as they'd like, or as much as the kids need

The reason MCs (Microcommunities) were invented, of course, was to give this “luxury” to even financially struggling parents so that the result in optimal childcare. If anyone can imagine a more pressing social need than this, we can't wait to hear about it! Kids are getting catch-as-catch-can authoritarian, authoritative, neglectful, and permissive parenting, often thrown at them in a confusing combination since parents get guilty after punishing and act permissive, which results in more misbehavior, and the cycle continues.

Catch-as-catch-can authoritarian, neglectful, and permissive parenting are all unacceptable methods that fail to produce productive, well-adjusted, emotionally mature, wise citizens
Catch-as-catch-can authoritarian, neglectful, and permissive parenting are all unacceptable methods that fail to produce productive, well-adjusted, emotionally mature, wise citizens

This is not producing acceptable parenting and when the young grow up, they are often far from the highly productive, well-adjusted, emotionally mature, wise citizens we need to have a truly healthy society and an effective community. The statistics are not heartwarming. They highlight the fact that only MCs (microcommunities) can get anywhere near a total solution to the optimal childcare we all want for our kids. See Why Register for an MC?.

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match

In the meantime, time-poor workaholic parents need workable solutions that keep kids fed, clothed, sheltered, and safe. Rules are needed and they're nothing without enforcement. Therefore Willard gives us a book of useful methods of dealing with the issue of kids on the Internet. It will help all who read it. The discipline methods are reasonable if that’s all parents have time for.

But if they find a way to make the time for the more demanding task of substituting Unconditional Parenting, Inner Discipline, P.E.T., etc., for the logical-consequence-based Willard method, the result will be safer and happier kids who needn’t use their computer as a medium where they can act out the frustrations and anger from being punished by parents, even if the punishment is merely reasonable “logical consequences.” Control is control. Empowering kids to learn how to control themselves wisely is a parent’s main job, not getting compliance—as the authoritarians wrongly believe. See Discipline That Works.

Willard wants us to review all of our children's public online activities
Willard wants us to review all of our children's public online activities

Willard wants us to review all of our children's public online activities but review personal communications only if we have reason to believe that there are any concerns. This is reasonable, since it’s a parent’s job to keep kids from running into the traffic, regardless of whether we’re referring to Internet or car traffic. They're taught about lights, signal, and crosswalks. There are analogous aspects of the cyber-traffic that kids need to learn about.

It’s a parent’s job to keep kids from running into the traffic, regardless of whether we’re referring to Internet or car traffic
It’s a parent’s job to keep kids from running into the traffic, regardless of whether we’re referring to Internet or car traffic

One would hope that schools do this, but it’s up to parents to ensure such learning takes place one way or another. Safety has to come first. Both Willard and Kohn would back off supervision once the kid shows he can be trusted to make responsible choices. Some Internet situations are ambiguous—not cut and dried at all. If they trust and respect a parent and vice versa, the parent will be consulted when the kid is ambivalent. Again, Kohn doesn’t spell out strategies for specific situations very often. But he spells out the general principles and the parenting method and lets parents apply their “respect and trust they've cultivated by loving their kids unconditionally” to all situations.

Will the Willard method result in kids feeling “conditional acceptance” from parents—which will negatively impact their self-acceptance? Will the Kohn method result in kids feeling “unconditional acceptance”—which will positively impact their self-acceptance? The answer to both questions is that it would seem like it would have to, at least somewhat.

Willard states that “Instances of unsafe or irresponsible Internet use are the most important teachable moments for educating your child about making good choices. Discipline that imposes a logical consequence to inappropriate behavior can teach important values and provide the foundation for internalized control.” This is reasonable and logical, and she even approaches it cautiously and with sensitivity. However, it is dubious if internalized control of good quality can come from other’s control. See The Effects of Parental Firm Control: A Reinterpretation of Findings, by Catherine C. Lewis.

Kohn would rely more on using the “respect and trust they've cultivated by loving their kids unconditionally.” His position is that "working with" asks more of us than does "doing to." More time, patience, listening, and being with the children with unconditional acceptance is required. But it is worth it, he believes, and the child learns internalized control of good quality, since it is intrinsic self control of the autonomous type, not extrinsic control of the superego type, as if a parent were installed in the child’s brain, controlling him.

The book has great suggestions for teens who are marginalized in any way—because of obesity, for instance
The book has great suggestions for teens who are marginalized in any way—because of obesity, for instance

The book has great suggestions for teens who are marginalized in any way in their own community—because of different sexual orientation, obesity, or chronic illness. The author cites online support communities established by professional mental health organizations which can provide excellent social and emotional support.

The Internet can find friends for the friendless, support for the unsupported, but also co-bulliers for the bullies, co-haters for the hateful, co-conspirators for the criminals, and victims for the predators. The Internet has wonderful as well as terrible potentials. As does parenting.

Finally, Willard has some good ideas about cyber-bullying, assessing it, getting cops or lawyers involved, etc.

Willard has some good ideas about cyber-bullying, assessing it, and getting cops or lawyers involved
Willard has some good ideas about cyber-bullying, assessing it, and getting cops or lawyers involved