Book is now available!

I haven’t written a blog post since Feb 2016 because I was busy writing a book!

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I wanted to quit often. There were tears. I talked myself out of it more times than I can count.

I wrote for about seven months. My goal was 50,000 words, but I ended around 77,000. When the draft was finished in August, I thought it was done. This newbie author was so naïve. Little did I know that my editor, who has been in the publishing industry for more than 30 years, was going to challenge me at every turn. Can I tell you a secret? Editors are behind-the-scenes heroes in the publishing world. Heroes. She questioned every cite, quote, statement and word. She was patient with me and all my comma splices. I’m so grateful for her and the entire publishing team. After another five months of editing and proofreading, it is finally ready!!

So, what is this book about? I’ve been on a crazy journey. It started four years ago. I’m continuing to learn, but I write in real-time about what I’m discovering because it’s so critically important.

Parenting has undergone a seismic shift, forcing us to address issues that previous generations of parents never encountered. No matter when you decide to give your child a phone (and that is entirely your choice), we all must recognize that online exposure has changed the entire landscape of parenting. If your kids don’t have their own devices, they interact with kids who do. My daughter, who did not have her own phone at the time, was given details about a pornographic video when she was nine years old. Yep, fourth grade. We must face this new reality of cyberparenting.

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In part 1 of the book, we dive into the emotional roller-coaster ride of my own cyberparenting journey. In my search for answers, I made so many mistakes. I felt like a failure. But that search led to a deeper walk with God and an amazing discovery that transformed my approach to parenting.

I recognized that monitoring and restrictions are great tools, but they’re not THE answer. Open communication is the secret weapon. It isn’t about family meetings or formal discussions; it’s about creating a healthy, ongoing dialogue between you and your child. It’s a practical, proactive, on-the-go approach to parenting. Amazing things happen when parents and kids begin to talk.

Open communication isn’t as simple as it may sound. It’s a complicated process that requires time and hard work. In part 2, I unpack four key steps that will help you pave the path for open communication in your family. This section is all about grit and facing it. God showed me that He wasn’t going to change my whole family dynamic without requiring me to look in the mirror first. Ouch!

In part 3, we address some of the most difficult topics parents encounter today, and I share how I handle them with my own children. I also offer some ideas for conversation starters and taking things deeper after the discussion gets going. I created this section as a topic list for easy access so that when you’re dealing with a specific issue and need a refresher, you can quickly flip to that chapter. Here are some of the questions we’ll be addressing:

  • When should my tween get a phone?
  • How and when should I warn my child about pornography?
  • How am I going to monitor social media?
  • How and when should I talk about sex with my tween?
  • How do I respond to questions about homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender?
  • How do I address mass shootings and terrorism?
  • What do I say about addiction? Do I have to worry about screen addiction?
  • How do I start the conversation about cyberbullying and suicide?
  • How in the world do I talk about all these difficult topics without causing confusion and fear?

No topic is off limits.

The whole idea of the book is to bring awareness to the new challenges of cyberparenting and create more open communication in families. I’m not an expert telling you how to parent. YOU are the expert on your child. I’m a mom, in the daily trenches, trying to figure out how to address complicated issues at earlier ages because of online exposure. In reality, I’m just trying to answer my kids’ questions over here!

In regard to how I address specific topics in our own family, I do write from a Biblical perspective because that’s how we parent. BUT, please hear me on this: I state throughout the book that it’s your family, your choice.

We may come from different faith backgrounds. That’s okay. We can model mutual respect, even when we disagree. We need everyone, regardless of their beliefs, to be engaged in this conversation and aware of the shift that’s taken place in parenting this generation.

Can you tell we have a lot to talk about?

You can order the book here:  TALK: A Practical Approach to Cyberparenting and Open Communication

10 Ways to Keep your Kids Safe on Instagram

My middle schooler recently earned Instagram. She had been asking for several years, but I kept saying “no.” A situation came up at school, and she did not cave to peer pressure. It was the perfect reason to reward and give her more freedom.

The time had come.

But, it still came with rules.

I like the word “cyberparenting.” Here’s how I define it — a new branch of parenting that wasn’t required of our parents. We’re the first generation of parents who have kids in elementary schools with smartphones. One click to access anything in the world. It’s important to get it right.

For us, we refuse to say “no” to all technology. It’s here. It’s required for homework. It can be used for good. But, it’s SO important to be diligent. I’ve learned to walk hand-in-hand with my children as they learn to navigate through this digital world.

Not gonna lie, it’s a lot of work. So, parents, we need to come together, learn from each other and share information.

These are our family rules. It works for us. Every parent gets to make decisions for his/her own family regarding social media. Each child is different. I respect every parent’s decision, but I’d also like to create more discussion about how to cyberparent.

So, here’s how we implemented Instagram:

1. Learn it first. I was on Instagram six months before I let my daughter have her own account. I had friends (who have older daughters) who walked me through it and answered my questions.
Alert: You need a mom friend who has kids older than your children. They’ll give you a heads-up of what’s coming your way. These dear friends of mine (Merideth and Holly) warned me about Instagram use among middle school kids.

2. Make the account private. By having a private account, strangers can only see the profile pic and bio. Your followers have to request to follow you. In the app, go to your profile page. Click the settings icon in the upper right corner, scroll down to “private account” and turn it on.
Alert: Even as a private account, everyone can see your pic and bio. I don’t allow my daughter to use her last name, the full name of her school (only an abbreviation), etc.

3. Follow your child. You already have an account (per Step 1) so follow your child.
Alert: You don’t have access to their direct messages and search history as a follower. This leads to Step 4. Be aware, they will communicate through the direct messaging feature.

4. Know your child’s password and check his/her phone. We have a rule that my daughter’s cell phone gets checked in at the end of the day (we don’t allow any screens in bedrooms, bathrooms or behind closed doors). So, her phone goes to our mudroom every night for charging. I often check her timeline, search history and direct messages.
Alert: The search history can be cleared and the direct messages can be deleted. Make sure you trust your child! Also, when you search within Instagram, the parental controls of the phone settings do not work because you’re inside an app. Porn will not be blocked, but should be reported as it is not allowed (see Step 10 for a porn-proof resource).

5. Turn “Location Services” off. Close the app. Go to your phone’s settings. Per Instagram’s help center, you turn it off here: Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Instagram. You can set to “Never” or “While Using the App.” I recommend “Never.”  If you do not turn off “location services” for Instagram, the picture could give anyone who follows your child an exact address of his/her location.
Alert: It only shows up here if you’ve added a location within the Instagram app before. If it’s not there, try adding a location in Instagram on a picture (you don’t have to actually post), then go back to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Instagram to turn it off.

6. Only allow followers your child knows in real life. This is a biggie for us. If my daughter can’t tell me who it is and how she knows them, they can’t follow her. Non-negotiable.

Also, most tweens think more followers = popularity. We talk a lot about our purpose on Instagram. We want to share pictures with a few of our friends. Jesus had 12 disciples. We don’t need thousands of strangers knowing our business. I tell my child, “Be selective in who you let into your world.”

7. Don’t allow your child to follow older kids you don’t know. Our rule is my daughter can follow people at school who are her grade and one grade above (again, who she knows in real life). Other than that, they must be a family friend or high school mentor at church. Personal preference.

8. Approve who your child follows. She only follows kids she knows in real life (see Step 7), and I also encourage her to follow pastors, motivational speakers, etc. who I follow and trust. The goal here – to fill her Insta-feed with positive things. I love when my daughter texts me Scripture she saw on Insta! LOVE.

9. Teach that Instagram is real life. I always tell my child, “If you won’t say it to her face, do not type it as a comment.”

Report bullying and inappropriate pictures. Do not talk to strangers. Do not share personal information, including your cell number. We also have family rules (for any screen) – no pictures in bathing suits or less, no pictures with your tongue sticking out, etc. These are important to us, customize them for your own preferences.

10. Teach integrity. I can put rules in place, set all the parental controls, but if my kids want to see bad things, they’ll find it in this digital world. My main goal of cyberparenting – teach them moral values, integrity and to guard themselves. I tell my kids, “You (and only you) are responsible for what enters your brain. Protect it. Bad images are hard to get out of your head.”

For us, the Bible is our moral compass. It determines right and wrong.

“I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart. I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; It shall not fasten its grip on me. A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will know no evil.” Psalm 101:2-4 (NASB)

I also highly recommend Good Pictures, Bad Pictures to porn-proof your kids (for ages 6+). Excellent resource!

What other rules do you use to keep your kids safe on Instagram?

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Alert: In the app store, Instagram is rated for 12+. If you google the terms of service for Instagram, it clearly states you must be 13. When opening a new account, though, a birthdate is not required. You are only required to check the box agreeing to all terms.