My 80s Carefree Childhood is a Thing of the Past
I was born in 1980. I grew up in a slow-paced, kid-friendly neighborhood where everyone between the ages of 7 and 12 regularly ran wild and free from sunup to sundown. My little brother and I only came home to pee or grab a grilled cheese for lunch, and sometimes we didn’t even do that.
The worst things I ever did as a kid involved putting rocks in the neighbor’s mailbox and torturing my brother and his friends. Oh, and pretending to smoke the white and red lego cigarettes my best friend and I snapped together and stored in a discarded cigarette package we found in the ditch.
Don’t tell my mom.
I think I was still right on the cusp of the “good ol days” when parents let their children run around more freely and didn’t worry when they didn’t see their kids for hours at a time. I know this is terribly hard to grasp for some readers, but we didn’t even have cell phones to check in.
My “checking in” was pedaling my bike like a bat straight outta hell on the road that passed my house, assuming my mom occasionally heard my yelling and laughter through the open windows throughout the day.
How Technology and Communication Advancements Put a Lid On Carefree Living for Kids
Unfortunately, times have changed and the parents who let their kids run wild and free today are often regarded as naive, reckless, and detached. It’s simply a different world that’s become filled with more opportunities to worry.
I’m a mom now myself, so I totally get that overwhelming feeling of protectiveness for a child. Unfortunately (well, unfortunate in my mind), I’m not that mom who lets her child run wild and free. I hate it, but I’m not. I do everything I can to give my child opportunities to run and play, wild and free, but the boundaries of the 21st century are there.
Probably the biggest change affecting kids from 1980 to 2018 are the advancements in technology and communication. When I was growing up, my technology consisted of fast forward, rewind, fast forward, rewind on my walkman. (Look it up. It really was a thing). And my communication was limited to a landline shared with five other people in my house. My childhood challenge was learning how to stretch the phone cord to its capacity before yanking it out of the phone and disconnecting the call.
I didn’t even grow up with email. I think I created my first personal email account as a sophomore or junior in high school. The internet was for school research and chat rooms. I sometimes had to wait up to 20-30 minutes for a dial-up connection just to connect to the internet. My first cell phone was a basic flip phone, purchased a few years after I got married. And by basic, I mean no texting, no data, no nothing. Calls only.
Now, children as young as 7 or 8 have mini computers in their pockets that connect them to virtually every corner of the earth using every medium imaginable. They are obsessive users of Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, GroupMe, Whisper, Kik Messenger, Musical.ly, and sooooo many others that aren’t even on your radar or mine.
Our kids are swapping texts, photos, videos, memes, and comments at an unimaginable pace. There are apps and other mediums that teens use for specific purposes, such as keeping secrets from parents, bullying, sexting, and other similar risky behaviors.
Our kids are more at risk today because they are easily accessible and easy targets.
What Can Go Wrong
It’s so much simpler for a sexual predator to befriend a 13-year-old girl electronically and convince her to send nude photos or videos of herself through sneaky grooming techniques and empty flattery. He can reel her in, hook, line, and sinker, without ever coming into actual physical contact with her.
A scenario that happens all too often involves a high school couple who swap sexts with one another during a month-long relationship. Once that relationship ends, the female of the relationship kills herself after discovering her naked photos have been spread to all of her classmates.
How about those cases you’ve read about bullying? Bullying has been around since the beginning of time, but again, technology and communication developments can take it to a whole new level of terrible. We all know it’s easier to hide behind a computer or phone and spew awful things about another human being. Things we would never say face-to-face.
So what can we, as parents, do about it?
A Private Investigator’s (and Parent's) Advice on Keeping Your Kids Safe
Here’s a start. This is a list of 15 things parents should do to keep their kids safe in today’s world. It’s not an exhaustive list. But it is a list of tangible, actionable things you can do to set your child down the right path.
Will these things keep your child from all harm all the time? No. Nothing and no one can make those promises. But we can do everything in our power as parents to provide the safest environment possible for our kids to learn, grow, and flourish as human beings.
- Carefully evaluate your decision to provide a personal cell phone, tablet, laptop, computer, or other electronic device to your child. Weigh their age, responsibility level, honesty, historical behavior, and purpose for “needing” one.
- Do not allow your child unfettered access to any electronic device without the ability to regularly view their activity.
- Educate your child about the risks associated with electronically connecting with people they don’t know.
- Follow up with everyone your child is communicating with that you don’t know. Figure out who they are, who their friends are, what they do, and their connection to your child. You don’t have to personally interrogate each one and mercilessly embarrass your child, but do some digging. Ask around. Be extremely suspicious of anyone your child becomes defensive about.
- Communicate with your child on a regular basis. Ask questions about their friends, school, activities, teachers, etc.
- Do not turn a blind eye because it’s the easy thing to do. Have those hard conversations and uncomfortable moments.
- Make it clear at an early age that there is nothing your child could ever do that would cause you to snatch your love away from them.
- Be sensitive to changes in behavior, appearance, level of sociability, eating habits, friends, schedule, activities, etc. If a change occurs, dig deep to find answers.
- Discuss acceptable practices when your child is given an electronic device. Get specific. Reiterate zero tolerance for sexting, bullying, and communicating with strangers. You don’t have to be a total killjoy. Just explain the reasoning behind the rules. Their safety is your bottom line.
- Become very familiar with the apps, social mediums, and other platforms your child uses. This will change on a continuous basis. This is not rocket science. Use Google. Google everything to death.
- Limit the amount of time your child is on their device(s). Be as creative as you want with this one.
- When you fight with your child about… (fill in the blank), once you both have cooled off, revisit the disagreement with a level head and take the time to explain your reasoning when its necessary. They might not like your rules, but they may very well better accept them when they know your reasoning behind those rules.
- Don’t scare your child to the point they are suspicious of every adult they don’t know, but give them real-world examples of what can happen when kids and teens especially are careless, reckless, or just plain naive.
- Make a plan with your child for any immediate risky situation they may find themselves in at any point in their life. My favorite is texting an “X” to Mom or Dad. When that “X” shows up in a text, Mom and Dad both know they are to call their child immediately and create an “emergency” at home in which the child must come at once. Even better, Mom or Dad indicate in the call that they are coming to pick up the child right away. It gives the child an “out” without putting more pressure on them for being uncool in ducking out of a situation or place of their own accord.
- Be the total nerd of a Mom or Dad to your child and their friends. Be involved. Ask questions. Be present.