As you are reading this document, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of online communication dialogues taking place between your children and their “network” of friends and acquaintances. The frequency and volume of this communication is growing every day and parents have little control or even influence over it. The widespread use of cell phones, especially smartphones, by our kids is the fundamental driving force behind this growth. While smartphones provide mobile access to a wide spectrum of information and communication options, their use is having a profound impact on how our kids interact and develop. Facebook, Twitter, and most of all, Text Messaging are the main communication tools for our kids today.
Few dreamed of such awesome technology when I was a kid some 35 plus years ago. Things were simpler and easier then. Video games were in their infancy, and rarely played at home. Kids actually spent more time in outdoor activities such as riding bicycles and playing pick-up games; the primary mode of communication was verbal, actually talking on landline phones. Few, if any, personal computers were in homes and the internet was not yet available to the public. The world has changed. Today’s kids have unprecedented access to technology and information.
While not backed up by clinical research, but rather by observation, I am convinced that kids today engage in activities at 13 and 14 that we engaged in when we were 17. The number of teenage pregnancies and drug-related incidents involving middle-school children are strong indicators of this acceleration. Few would argue that “kids grow up faster today” and that the trend has been going on for decades. However, access to technology and information has compounded what I call the “Acceleration of Adolescence” at a rate that we have not experienced in our lifetimes. As a parent in today’s cyber world it is critical to understand this fact: What you did at 17 many kids today do at 13.
The bottom line is that to be a responsible parent today one must accept that this acceleration exists, understand how your kids communicate with one another, develop a strategy to educate your kids (and yourself) on the realities of online communication, and above all, monitor their online dialogue within their network of friends and acquaintances.
While this may seem excessive to some parents, if you want to protect your kids from various life altering decisions and activities, you have to develop a monitoring strategy that allows them to benefit from technology and communication options while enabling you, the parent, to simply “know what is going on.” The treasure trove of information that your kids leave behind in the wake of their online dialogue is possibly the most powerful tool a parent has today. Bottom line: Taking advantage of this tool can make you a much more effective parent in many areas and keep your kids safe. Failure to take advantage of this tool can have dire consequences.