Five years ago, my nine-year-old daughter asked a highly sexualized question that blindsided me. I didn’t even know “this” existed until college. Another child had seen something pornographic online and shared the details with her.
My daughter’s innocent question turned my world upside down and opened my eyes to the far-reaching impact of the digital world. My girl, who didn’t even have her own phone at the time, was learning about adult issues way too soon, and I was clueless, completely unaware of what she was being exposed to. Her question was a wake-up call for me. That’s when my crazy cyberparenting journey began.
In sheer desperation, I started a moms’ group in my Texas community. I was hoping someone would tell me I was overreacting. The opposite happened. Other parents started sharing their own scary stories with me. I realized I wasn’t alone.
That group expanded at a blistering speed. We also started an online group that rapidly grew with moms from all over the world. I was then asked to speak on TV and radio. We quickly realized that we needed to make our resources available to everyone (not just moms). We formed a nonprofit organization, nextTalk, to bring parents, educators and community members together to keep our kids safe online.
We’re in uncharted territory. The accelerated growth of technology has changed the entire landscape of parenting. A shift has taken place that we must recognize. What our children are encountering digitally raises complicated questions at earlier ages, and many of us (me! me! me!) feel inadequate to address them. So, what do we do?
My gut reaction was to bubble wrap my child, but that created rebellion. It was also a false sense of security. I could take away all online access at home, but when she left the house other kids could still tell her what they saw online. I couldn’t control it. So, we finally faced the reality. Instead of saying “no” to all technology, we made a conscious decision to teach ourselves how to effectively parent it.I discovered cyberparenting isn’t only about rules and restrictions; it’s also about relationship. The solution is simple—open communication. But the process of achieving it is complicated and time consuming. Parents need to begin relationship-building early, even before their children’s tween years hit.
I share more details of our personal story, explain the process of building open communication in our family and tackle hot-button topics that parents tell me they’re most afraid to address (including but not limited to: transgender, sexuality, dating, love, sex, masturbation, social media management, etc.) in my new book, TALK: A Practical Approach to Cyberparenting and Open Communication (click the title to order).
We are in this together. Learning together. I’m not an expert. I’m a mom in the trenches with you, day after day. I’m writing in real time.
You are not alone. You are not the only one struggling. Do you have a similar lightbulb moment when you recognized that our screen-crazed world has changed parenting? I’d love to hear your story.
Mandy Majors grew up in a small Indiana town and graduated from Indiana University with a BA in political science and criminal justice. She’s been happily married to her best friend, Matt, for seventeen years, and together they’re raising two kids in a quaint little Texas community. Mandy is the founder and executive director of nextTalk, a nonprofit organization passionate about helping parents prepare for the next conversation with their children.
Mandy’s time is split between researching, team building, speaking, writing and talking to her family about everything. And she’s completely addicted to Diet Coke.