When my parents were alive, their birthdays (just two weeks apart) were always a time in which family and friends gathered around and celebrated the sacredness of life. With each passing year, we all mused over lessons learned, wisdom gained, and personal stories shared — with laughter and with tears. Now, each year as spring draws near and their birthdays come and go, my thoughts turn to my parents and the legacy each bestowed upon me.
With these memories held tenderly in the back of my mind, I opened a recent issue of The Witness, the newspaper published by the Diocese of Harrisburg (PA), and read a reflection by Father Joshua R. Brommer, STL on the importance of parents in the education of children. He quotes Gravissimum Educationis: Declaration on Christian Education (October 1965; abbreviated GE; numbers indicates paragraph quoted) which states:
“Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators…. Parents are the ones who must create a family atmosphere animated by love and respect for God and man, in which the well-rounded personal and social education of children is fostered. Hence the family is the first school of the social virtues that every society needs. …. Here, too, they find their first experience of a wholesome human society and of the Church. Finally, it is through the family that they are gradually led to a companionship with their fellowmen and with the people of God.” (GE 3)
As an educator, I fundamentally know the importance of working with parents in the education of the children entrusted to us. Brommer goes on to quote the Declaration as saying that “(teachers) render a valuable service to society” (GE 8). Working “in close cooperation with the parents,” teachers are called to treat each pupil as a unique individual and to “awake in their pupils a spirit of personal initiative (GE 8).”
“In an undeniable way,” says Brommer, “after parents, teachers are often the most important figures in the lives of young people. The great good they are called to do is rooted principally in the mission to help their pupils grow into fully developed men and women.”
Parents, teachers and Internet safety
So by the mere purpose of their profession, teachers join with parents to create a circle of love that nurtures, supports, and encourages the young to dream of a better world. In the 21st century, sometimes these dreams must be allowed to be explored and expressed oneline, while safeguarding the innocence and the safety of our youth.
In Sharon Vinderine’s blog post “Are Your Kids Safe Online?”, she writes: “We monitor our children’s social activities carefully; we always want to know where they are and who they are with. But with the online world, we often leave them to their own devices – literally.”
And Sue Atkins, The Parenting Expert, reports on a member of the British Parliament who contends that parents have lost the confidence to protect their children. “We have got to be much franker, much more open and upfront about it,” said MP Claire Perry. “I don’t want it to sound like harking back to Victorian values, but parents should sit down with their kids and say ‘are you aware of what’s out there?’.”
Six Basic Tips for Parents
In such circumstances, teachers must not only instruct students but parents as well. There are six basic rules for parental guidance over the use of the Internet, according to Vinderine. They’re worth sharing with families in our schools. (I’ve added my comments).
Teach your children what information is and isn’t safe or sensible to reveal online. Many years ago, in the development I used to live in, cement sidewalks were laid. After the construction workers left, a child in my neighborhood thought it would be funny to walk up the wet cement. Thirty years later, he moved back into his family home with his wife and daughter to care for his aging mother. He and his youngster went out for a walk one afternoon. I overheard the following conversation (the sidewalk ran past my backyard): “Daddy, who was the idiot who walked on the wet cement?” “Ahh, that would be me when I was your age. I thought it was a good idea at the time. Now I know it was stupid.” The point of this story is that your digital footprints — whatever you post online — stay on line FOREVER, just like walking in wet cement.
Set time limits. We all have to learn the sometimes tricky business of balancing balance our online life and our face-to-face life. Set a timer for yourself and your child.
Research the parental controls and restrictions that your Internet Service Provider gives to you. They often provide a web safe-search component in addition to the web filtering service.
Teach your children to recognize the signs of what is “not right” on the Web. Just like we teach children the proper way of crossing the street, or to avoid dark alleys, you need to familiarize your child with internet danger signs and encourage them to share anything that troubles them with you.
Consider what devices have internet access. Children may need the internet to complete school work, but consider limiting access to one or two devices that you can monitor the use of.
Usernames and Passwords. Most social networking sites have a minimum age limit of 13 for a reason. Do not allow your child to create an account under false pretenses. When they do create appropriate accounts, let them know you will be checking to keep them safe. Have them sign a contract with you that outlines the accounts they do have and the expectations you have for them while they are on line.
I know my parents were completely involved in my education both at home or in school. As an educator and technology leader, I am honored to assist parents as they prepare their children to be well versed in 21st century skills, and also safe and wise travelers in the connected world.