I’ve heard parents say that it is their job to embarrass their kids. Sometimes that phrase is meant to say that parents keep their kids honest and real. It’s hard to be hip when Mom has diaper stories. But there’s danger in using that phrase as a parental license to humiliate. Maybe every child gets embarrassed by their parents sooner or later--your dance steps are out of date, you drop the name of their previous sweetheart, or you’re just so earnest when they want to be cool--but you should never choose to embarrass your kids. Humiliation hurts, and kids will exclude you to protect themselves. If you want to be included in the inner workings of their life, choose respect over humiliation.
So how can you show respect online? It starts with behaving online as you would offline.
Don’t write embarrassing stuff on any public forum. If you need to share something, consider sending it as a private message. You will communicate thoughtfulness by sharing privately rather than embarrassing them in front of all their friends. They may decide that what you shared is awesome and choose to share it themselves, but the choice to share it will be their own.
Don’t be the first to Like and Comment on every post they make. Don’t respond to everything they do. Don’t be a helicopter parent, hovering about, trying either to protect them from any challenge or affirm every little thing. Give your teen room to express themselves. They may occasionally say something stupid and you can discuss that with them offline, but give your children room to fail. It will be a great teacher. If in doubt on responding publicly, try a private message or face-to-face conversation instead.
Pay attention to what they write on online (but generally without comment). Note who replies to them. Feel free to silently stalk their friends a little. Review the bands, movies, websites, and pages they like. Google the words you don’t know. Appreciate this window into your child’s heart. If you respect their space, you will be rewarded with the opportunity to share in their life. Ask offline about things you see and what they mean.
We all desire the affirmation of our parents. Some kids resist their parents' presence in their online spaces to avoid hearing their parents’ disapproval. Discover the stuff that interests your kids without giving them a hard time about it. Their tastes may be immature and odd to you, their YouTube videos may be both lame and long, and the obsession with the latest pop star trivia may seem excessive, but respect the things that matter to them. If something needs confrontation and teaching, do it privately. When we correct in a loving way there is a greater chance that our words will be heard and received. Speak the truth in love so that you are offering encouragement and guiding our families to glorify God.
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ(Romans 15:5-6).
The key to being a good parent online is to treat our kids with the same love and respect that we give our children face to face. All areas of our life including online parenting need to be reflections of God’s great love for us!
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster