Jesse Weinberger - OvernightGeek University Body Wrapper

Internet Safety & Digital Parenting : Your kids want you to say ‘no’ – to them AND to yourself. I have proof.

Jesse 'Big Mama' Weinberger - Internet Safety SpeakerWarning: This post is unconscionably long, but whatever. It takes what it takes, right? If you’re a TL:DR kinda person and the thought of consuming this many words gives you the shakes – don’t worry. Here’s all you need to know:

  1. Your children are asking you for more no’s than yes’es.
  2. Your children can see your digital misuse, and they’re not amused. So stop.

Oh good, you’re still here. Onward….

During the 2016-2017 school year, while traveling all over the US and presenting to students, parents, and teachers – I decided to add an optional question to the anonymous exit survey students complete at the end of my student presentation “Don’t Be A Sheep.”

Up until this time, students had been sharing the frequency, types, and circumstances around their own digital consumption and over-consumption. After analyzing hundreds of thousands of lines of student data, I wondered how students viewed their parent’s knowledge of both digital tools and digital risks.

One day, instigated by a student’s comment during a presentation (something like ‘my parents are way more addicted to their phones than I am’) I asked the students to add a 3rd and optional question to the survey by just jotting down a thought about what they felt their parents “needed to know” about digital usage and risks. Since the surveys are completely anonymous, I was hoping at least a few of them would feel free to open up, via this optional question.

The results have been overwhelming. Typically around 65% 1 of students answer the optional “parent education” question. This pool of responses has become the best single source of data which provides deep insight into what our children need us to know and do for them. And make no mistake, there is a significant amount of work which we need to do. In terms of the content of the responses, I’m consistently blown away by just how blind we are as parents and by how deeply these children need for us to take control. Their responses are heartfelt and blunt, intuitive and heartbreaking, perceptive and astoundingly mature.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the resulting data is its consistency. Similar to the self-reported data on sexting and cyberbullying2 (collected on the same anonymous exit survey) the resulting responses to the “parent education” question are eerily consistent3 across socio economics, geography, and school type (public, private, religious). Regardless of where they live, which kind of school they attend, or how much money their parents make, there is a single thread which binds them together – virtually ubiquitous device ownership among both children and parents.

Your children need you

The Q & A portion of my parent presentation encapsulates the parental fear and anxiety around this new thing called: digital parenting. What the hell does that even mean? Ideally, it means saying ‘no’ or at least saying ‘not so much.’ Digital parenting also includes asking children loads of questions and having the same conversations over and over again – in a never-ending loop.

But in this case (as in all things) when discussing successful implementation, the devil is in the details. This is the source of the anxiety I can feel from the stage during the Q & A. By the time I’ve taken them through the risks and reality, including the data related to their own children – the parents in the auditorium feel out of their depth. Which makes sense. They’ve just sat through my explaining the hundreds of ways this can go wrong with their child, in their home, and in their community.

But at least the parents in the seats now know what they don’t know. This is a starting point of sorts. I’m far more worried about all of the parents who could have attended the parent event and chose not to – they chose willful ignorance over education, they chose to believe that this conversation does not apply to them – that these issues will never darken their doorway. Bad move.

Different stages, similar questions

During the live Q&A, most of the questions I’m asked by parents center around fears or details related to having to now begin setting limits where they had never done so in the past. Some parents are nervous about the potentially adverse impact on their child’s social life while others focus more on respecting their child’s privacy. Other parents are just at that very moment facing the fact that their sweet babies (3rd to 6th graders) are engaging in outrageously risky digital behaviors and have no idea if they should have the conversations with their child – much less how to start that conversation.

My stock reply to most of these questions is:  

“Your children want you to say ‘no’, they want and need for you to snoop, they want to use ‘my mom won’t let me’ as an excuse, they want frank discussions in which they aren’t treated like infants, and by the way they want you to put down your phone and pay more attention to them. I know all of this because they told me, and they wanted me to tell you.”

And that’s all well and good when I’m standing on a stage. In a live event, I’ve built some credibility with the audience. They’ve viewed their student’s data – so they get it. It rings true to them, because they’ve seen the complete picture. But when I’m outside that weirdo artificial presentation setting – say having a conversation with friends over dinner, if I say “Your children want you to say ‘no’ to them” – the responses come in two basic flavors. Most will say “absolutely!”  while some others will say “Oh, they do NOT, that makes no sense, why on earth would your kid want you to stop them from doing stuff they want to do?”  Normally, I just let it go at this point. No one wants to hear about my data, and frankly neither do I at this moment. I’m off duty anyhow, and I can see the bar from where I’m sitting – and there are not enough bottles of Patron to get me through the rest of this evening.

By the way, I didn’t choose to hang out with the people in that second group – I just got stuck with them, say at a family dinner as a completely random example. Stressful relatives at horrifying and inescapable family gatherings aside, it seems counterintuitive that your children would specifically ask for limits. And yet this is precisely what is happening. Specifically and in detail.

That’s why we’re here right now – with me writing and you reading. My goal is to show you exactly what I’ve found, in as much detail as you’re willing to consume. If you want to check out the breakdown of the data source – I’ve included that all at the end of this post.

What the data shows

The analysis which follows came from student responses collected via the “parent education” question on the anonymous exit survey following my student presentation. I have aggregated the data from thirteen different schools, covering 4th to 12th grades in order to share the responses that students want you to hear.

The Completed Surveys4 sample of 6,862 was limited to just the 4,598 surveys where a student wrote a response to the parent education question: “If YOU could educate parents, what would you tell them? What do you think that they need to know?”  This question is purposely open-ended to encourage students to share whatever happens to be top of mind for them related to the issue of digital consumption or risks.

For the purpose of this post, I only focused on the parent education responses where at least one of the following criteria was reflected in the content of the comment:

Criteria 1: The student’s response asks parents to either limit the child’s access to devices or asks parents for a higher or more consistent level of supervision of the student’s digital life.
Criteria 2: The student’s response reflects a critical view of their parent’s digital engagement, or implies addictive behavior.

 

Simply put, the student responses counted and included here are either students asking for more parental restrictions or students who see their parents as poor digital role models.

 


By using just those two criteria, we ended up with a smaller sample of only 
Relevant Responses or 1,040 total responses out of the 4,598 total. Then those 1,040 responses were divided again into four total groups as shown below.


Criteria 1: Student asking parents for limits or supervision  
Total responses: 460 of 1,040 (or 44% of Relevant Responses)

  1. Students asking their parents to say ‘no’ or deny them access to devices
    Total responses: 236
  2. Students asking for more or consistent parental supervision on devices
    Total responses: 224

Criteria 2: Parent’s Digital Misuse
Total responses: 580 of 1,040  (or 56% of Relevant Responses)

  1. Students accusing parents of overusing devices, overusing or misusing social media
    Total responses: 526
  2. Students making specific references to their parent possibly having a device addiction
    Total responses: 54

Internet Safety Speaker - Jesse Weinberger - Digital parenting and parent digital parent supervision. Your kids want you to say no to them and to yourself.

 

It bears repeating that these responses were offered by students when prompted by the question: “If YOU could educate parents, what would you tell them? What do you think that they need to know?”  They could have answered anything. Indeed, the excluded sample of the responses includes content related to: sexual predation, cyberbullying, porn consumption and addiction, the pervasiveness of sexting, specific app warnings, and too many other categories to list. Although many of these comments could have been construed as fitting into our criteria here – I’ve only included and counted the comments which plainly spoke to the criteria.

For example: The survey response from the 5th grade girl who wants her parents to know that she’s addicted to pornography could be interpreted as an SOS for parental engagement – but because her comment did not include a specific request for limits, supervision, or role model behavior – it was not included in this sample.

In fact, 23% of all of the students (in this particular sample) who answered the question – chose to use that space to ask parents for increased limits, increased supervision, better digital parenting and better role models – all based on zero prompting by me either during the presentation or on the printed exit survey.  

 


Here’s what your children want you to know

The best way to tell you what your children really want is to let them do the talking. I’ve taken actual student responses and used them to answer typical parent questions and concerns. The student’s responses are transcribed verbatim in each category below. 

Criteria 1A: Students asking their parents to say ‘no’ or deny them access to devices

Parent questions and student responses
(Note: the number and letter after each student response refer to that child’s grade and gender. For example “4B” is a response from a 4th grade boy.)


Doesn’t my child want me to say ‘yes’ to a smartphone?

  • “Don’t buy kids a phone.” 5G
  • “Do not let your kid have a phone or any device so that they don’t have to deal with this.” 6G
  • “Don’t let your kids have a phone if you don’t know what you’re doing.” 5B
  • “Phones can be given to older ages not super young as you are too dumb to know what you’re doing even as a teen.” 8B

Won’t my child perceive my ‘no’ as a lack of trust? My child is a “good kid”. Why would I say ‘no’?

  • “We need your help please say no.” 8B
  • “Raise your kids well and say no!” 7G
  • “Kids are reckless. You need to say no.” 11G
  • “I’m on my XBox too much – you need to say no.” 5B
  • “Parents need to say no.” 7G

Will I damage my relationship with my child if I say ‘no’? I don’t want my child not to like me.

  • “I’m glad my parents don’t let me have any of this stuff.” 5G
  • “I am not on electronics because my mom and dad want me to use my brain. I craft, read, and play outside instead. I wish it could be like that for everyone else.” 6G

Won’t my child feel left out if we say ‘no’ to social media?

  • “Do NOT give your kids social media – once they have it they’ll love it, but it’s not good.” 8G
  • “I want to get off social media but it’s hard – friends would be out of touch and call me and say I have no life. I need for my mom to just say I’m not allowed.” 9G
  • “Social media isn’t worth the risk to kids.” 8B
  • “You shouldn’t have let me get social media so young, it ruined things.” 7G
  • “You’re helping your kids by telling them to not have social media apps because it’s easier to blame it on our parents.” 8G
  • “I would tell them social media should be deleted. We should focus on what we do in life – not how many likes we get on a picture.” 5G

Criteria 1B: Students asking for more or consistent parental supervision on devices

Parent questions and student responses
(Note: the number and letter after each student response refer to that child’s grade and gender. For example “4B” is a response from a 4th grade boy.)


I’m afraid that my child will resent my snooping and constant supervision. Besides, shouldn’t I respect my child’s privacy?

  • “Please don’t stop trying to protect me.” 6G
  • “Check apps before you tell your child it’s okay.” 4B
  • “I’m glad my parents are so strict – makes it easier.” 6G
  • “Watch children closely – don’t become lenient.” 10G
  • “Parents need to use parent apps to see what I’m doing in case it’s inappropriate.” 5G
  • “It’s okay to be overprotective.” 11B

Aren’t my children are too young to have tough conversations about digital risks?

  • “Tell your kids that it’s okay to tell you if they receive something inappropriate.” 8G
  • “Things online are not what they seem and your kids are not as innocent as you think.” 7B
  • “You need to talk to your kids about what is really going on.” 5G
  • “Have real conversations with your children.” 10B
  • “Informing your kids of safety risks is more helpful than just banning them from social media without any reason.” 8G

I have a “good kid” so why should I constantly supervise or snoop? I trust him.

  • “Please help me to not do dumb stuff.” 5G
  • “Ask me what I’m doing and don’t let me use apps with inappropriate stuff like Instagram.” 4G
  • “You need to take your kid’s phone and know every app and every password, or else your kid will lie.” 6G
  • “I want my parents to take my phone at night – they forget.” 6G
  • “Parents need to have rules for kids.” 5B

I’ve set time limits for device usage and I have to fight with my kids all the time. I’m ready to give up.

  • “You should limit how much time we spend online – even if we get mad.” 4B
  • “Make your kids go outside more and that they need to put a time limit on electronics.” 6B
  • “Take me off my phone if I’m on it for more than an hour.” 7B
  • “I would tell my mom to make sure and put limits on my phone.” 8B
  • “You should turn off wifi during homework time.” 8B

If I checked my kid’s phone a few times and didn’t find anything bad, should I keep checking?

  • “Don’t just say you’ll check your kid’s devices you have to really do it.” 6G
  • “You need to actually check your children’s phones.” 8G
  • “Parents need to do a better job of watching kids.” 7G
  • “Parents need to do more to stop their kids from over using social media and their phones.” 6G

 


Criteria 2 A&B: Students accusing parents of: overusing or misusing devices and social media, specific references to their parent potentially having a device addiction

Criteria 1 focuses on children asking for increased digital engagement from their parents which also happens to be the main topic of most of the questions which I’m asked by parents. Parents, understandably, are asking questions about the whys and hows – basically the justification for the engagement (but I have a good kid) as well as the logistical concerns (I check every once in a while, that’s enough – right?).  

But Criteria 2 is a whole different kettle of fish. Parents don’t arrive at my parent presentations intending on asking me questions about their own misuse of digital tools5. But I will say that I have seen (hundreds of times) a husband snap his head to stare down his wife (or vice versa) when I mention adult misuse of devices or social media. It makes me laugh, every time – and I call them out, every time.

Parents aren’t asking me questions about their own misuse because if they objectively saw it as misuse (I’m hoping), they would act to change it. You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge right? I’m perfectly fine with my Gummy Bears addiction – and no, I don’t see anything weird about stocking five extra bags in the pantry, thank you very much.

Like any addiction or at least seemingly unstoppable repeated pattern of behavior, parents who misuse their own devices or social media seem to have a lack of self-awareness of both how obvious the parent’s misuse is to their children AND how the parent’s misuse could be impacting their children and the health of the family overall.

Since we don’t have parent questions for this topic – we’ll work backward. Starting with the student responses – here are the three most common categories of student responses related to parental misuse of devices and/or social media.

When you over-share or over-engage, you might accidentally be increasing your family’s exposure to victimization.
By far this is your child’s biggest complaint about your social media and device use.  We expect our children to be good stewards of their online reputation. We tell them to be careful what they post and where they post – that content never goes away – BLAH BLAH and BLAH. Yet there you are posting photo after photo of your child without asking if it’s okay with her. If we want our children to respect the power of the content they create, then you should respect them enough to ask them for permission before you post about them. Maybe she doesn’t want the universe to know that little fun fact that you just blasted all over Facebook. Your kids HATE that you do this. It’s a big deal for them. And I agree. So stop.

Moreover, when you post family photos, check-in at a restaurant or vacation spot, post where you are “gonna-be” in the future, and generally projectile vomit your day-to-day, you vastly increase your family’s risk of being victimized.

Or at a minimum – your constant stream of bad-lighting-is-that-pasta-or-cheesecake-no-it’s-a-dislocated-toe photos vastly increase your risk of looking like an idiot. Mark Twain said, “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.”  


Your child sees how you engage with devices and social media and will likely imitate your behavior (addictive behaviors).
If your child sees you choose a screen over verbal and real-life engagement – they will do likewise. As the parent, you are (presumably) the one who makes the rules, and if you don’t make your family the first priority when you’re physically together then why on earth should your tween daughter behave better than you do?

If your child sees you prioritize an email over family/dinner time – they will do likewise.  Dinner doesn’t take all that long – probably less than 45 minutes. If your job requires you to engage in work-related activity every waking moment, perhaps you need to re-evaluate. Don’t use work as an excuse – you’re not fooling anyone, certainly not your children.

PS: I recognize that children never imitate the good things we do – isn’t that parenting in its essence? But take heart, someday that little angel making you utterly bonkers, will have a child of his own and then you will be able to take your revenge. Smugly.

You might accidentally be modeling behavior which encourages your child to externalize their sense of self-worth.  
Yes, I’m talking to you if you’re scrolling through Facebook while “watching” your child in the bathtub, or if that cute pic you took at the playground just must be posted this second, or if posting is a natural extension of almost any real-world experience: watching a new tv show, going out to dinner, suffering a disappointment, getting stuck in a traffic jam, meeting up with friends. Every experience must be cataloged, reported, and posted. Then after the posting comes the checking – how many liked, who were they, what did they say – why did she say THAT.  Wash.Rinse.Repeat.

Essentially, how many friends/likes/comments becomes more important than your own sense of self-worth. Or in another way: nothing is real, nothing has substance, nothing matters until it has been posted and its value weighed, measured, and quantified by people outside of yourself. And possibly the worst part is when your children see it. They might not be able to articulate it – but they feel it.

Oh, and your kids asked me to tell you to stop taking selfies – and if you’re over 40 years old,  I kind of also want you to stop. It’s not cute anymore.


Criteria 2 A&B: Student Responses to Parental Digital Misuse
(Note: the number and letter after each student response refer to that child’s grade and gender. For example “4B” is a response from a 4th grade boy.)

When you over-share or over-engage, you might accidentally be increasing your family’s exposure to victimization.
Student Responses:  

  • “Stop posting about us on Facebook” Total of 288 responses just in this sample.
    (NOTE: this is by far the most popular comment in this section – across all grades, all schools, ever.)
  • “Be safer with how you use social media. Don’t underestimate this.” 6B

Your child sees how you engage with devices and social media and will likely imitate your behavior (ie addictive behaviors).
Student Responses:  

  • “Don’t play on your devices so much and play with your kids.” 4B
  • “Be a better example on electronics.” 5B
  • “Pay attention to me and not to their phone.” 4B
  • “Get off of Facebook and Twitter and get your ‘news’ from the news app that comes with the phone.” 5G
  • “I would tell them to get off the phone because I need love too. Also the reason I stay on my phone is because you don’t talk to us.” 5G
  • “My mom needs to get off her phone and actually make eye contact with me when we’re talking.” 7G
  • “Parents need to stop using tech every second and have a life.” 6B
  • “Stop playing on and using your phone during dinner.” 5G
  • “Spend less time on your phone if you expect your kids to not do the same thing.” 5B

You might accidentally be modeling behavior which encourages your child to externalize their sense of self-worth.
Student Responses:  

  • “Delete your social media accounts – it’s not worth so much of your life.” 5B
  • “There are parents who are bad role models for their kids with social media.” 8G
  • “Stop using social media all the time instead of spending time with your kids.” 7G
  • “Some parents spend all day on social media and they’re worse than their kids.” 7B
  • “You don’t need social media and neither do we.” 5G

 


Bottom Line

If you made it this far, congratulations – you might be the only one. And where are we exactly…what have we learned? Precisely what I offered in the two line summary at the beginning, but hopefully with more depth:

  1. Your children are asking you for more no’s than yes’es.
  2. Your children can see your digital misuse, and they’re not amused. So stop.

Easy to comprehend, far more difficult to implement. And I get that. Just hear one last thing – your children want to get off this insane ride. They want you to be the grown-up and make it stop. Even if all signs point to the contrary, they need you and they want you to stop them.

Remember #BeFierceBeUnafraid


The Boogeyman Exists; And He’s In Your Child’s Back Pocket (2nd Edition): Internet Safety Tips & Technology Tips For Keeping Your Children Safe … Social Media Safety, and Gaming Safety by Jesse WeinbergerInternet Safety Expert: Jesse WeinbergerJesse “Big Mama” Weinberger is an Internet Safety ExpertInternet Safety Speaker for schools, and the author of The Boogeyman Exists: And He’s In Your Child’s Back Pocket”; a guide for parents and educators on how to keep children safe in a 24-7 always connected digital society. Learn more about how to keep your children safe online.  She has been teaching parents, schools, and students how to navigate online and mobile risks since 2003. Jesse is available for internet safety presentations to schools, parents, students, and organizations all over the United States. 


Data Source

The data used in this post was gathered from a cross-section of accumulated student surveys from 2016 to the present. At the end of every student presentation, I ask students to complete a very short anonymous exit survey on paper (paper! imagine that) which contains three questions. The data used here comes exclusively from the third and optional question: “If YOU could educate parents, what would you tell them? What do you think that they need to know?”  Typically around 64% to 70% of students offer some response to this optional survey question.

The data used for this post purposely reflects a variety of grades, school types, school locations, and income levels.

Data sample includes:

  • Total schools: 13
  • Grades: 4th to 12th
  • School types
    • Public Schools: 4 schools
    • Religious:  6 schools
    • Private non-religious: 3 schools
  • School locations
    • Suburban: 8 schools
    • Urban: 5 schools
  • Schools by income level*
    * Based on % of students who qualify for the free and reduced lunch program

    • Wealthy (0 to 10%): 4 schools
    • High-middle to Middle  (11 to 30%): 7 schools
    • Middle to Low (31 to 60%): 2 schools

ALL COMPLETED SURVEYS: 6,862
Total completed surveys in the resulting sample: 6,862 surveys

ALL PARENT EDUCATION RESPONSES: 4,598
Total surveys which included a response to the “parent education” optional question: 4,598 surveys (or 67% of the completed surveys)

ALL RELEVANT RESPONSES: 1,040
Total responses from the 4,598 sample which are relevant to the two criteria related to this post: 1,040 relevant responses  (or 23% of all parent education responses).

 

  1. 67% for the student responses used in this particular data sample. Click here to learn more.
  2. See Chapter 12 of The Boogeyman Exists: And He’s In Your Back Pocket, 2nd edition for more detail on the sexting and cyberbullying data.
  3. Click here to learn more about the data sample.
  4. Click here to learn more about the data sample.
  5. See Chapter 2, page 22 of The Boogeyman Exists: And He’s In Your Back Pocket, 2nd edition for “How How We Are Complicit As Parents”.