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Digital Parenting & Ultimatums Don't Mix...Here's Why

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We've all used ultimatum's, god knows I have. But when it comes to digital parenting and keeping our kids safe online, they are one parenting tool we need to be putting in the bin. Why? They can actually make your child more likely to fall victim to cyber crime online. Here's why...

 

1. Impaired Decision Making For Your Child

An ultimatum can be defined as "a final demand or statement of terms, the rejection of which will result in retaliation or a breakdown in relations." They're used as a last resort by an exasperated parent when we're on our last legs. We're desperate for a solution so the trusty ol' ultimatum comes out!

However, all they communicate to our children is that we have already lost. By definition there must be a winner and a loser and the result for the loser is inevitably "a breakdown in relations". This is key because the safety of our family relies heavily on trust.

With all the parental control software in the world, we cannot be there 100% of the time (physically or virtually) and so at some point our kids will be on their own making their own decisions. If there has been a breakdown in communication between the two of you then their decision making process will be impaired. For example, they might be making decisions purely out of spite or 'get back' at you. For example, they start accepting friend requests from complete strangers or they continue sexting with whomever they want, despite everything you said.

Their decision making process is now geared more towards retaliating against us as the parent (for enforcing the ultimatum) than it is about staying safe online.

 

2. Breeds Secrecy

Even if we 'win' an ultimatum, we have forced our child's hand. They have accepted the ultimatum purely out of obedience / fear - not because they hold the same viewpoint as yourself. There has been no point of learning for the child and therefore they will at some point revert back to their old behaviour. The acceptance of the ultimatum is purely just a short term ploy to avoid the punishment in the immediate future. You can bet your bottom dollar that they will do whatever 'it' is again, but this time because they know that that activity comes with such strong penalties they will be much more covert and secretive when they do do it again.

 

3. Degradation in Trust

The fallout from an ultimatum argument inevitably results in small cracks forming in the trust relationship we have with our child. They lose trust because they can see that the situation got out of control and the solution was one geared favourably towards the parent, rather than equal for both sides.

This is important because a key element to keeping our kids safe online is ensuring they are aware ion the risks out there. Stranger danger, cyber bullying, fraud, sextortion...etc. etc. we as parents must ensure they are aware of these and that they actually do happen in the real world. Where a breakdown in tryst has occurred, the child will start to challenge more and more the likelihood of these threats occurring to them. They disbelieve the parent who tells them they're a real threat and just because it hasn't happened to them as yet, they start to think it probably won't ever happen to them - they believe their parent has over-exaggerated the risk.

 

When you conflate these three outcomes - reduced trust, more secret and an impaired decision making process for the child, it puts the child in a position where they are much more likely to get into bother online (impaired decision making process) and that particular issue is much less likely to be shared with us the parent (secrecy and degradation of trust). The child becomes more and more isolated, and ultimately much more vulnerable online.

 

What Can We Do?

  • Step back to gain some perspective. To say never use an ultimatum would be poor advice and not pragmatic, we all use them we just need to gain a little perspective. Don't get bogged down in the weeds of the argument, remember what the core values of your parenting are that you're trying to teach.
  • If you have a partner, work as a team. Have an agreement between the two of you that if you see each other becoming emotionally frayed in an interaction with your kids, let the other one take over and manage the situation. Not only does this help alleviate the stress of the situation but it puts forward a 'united front' to your children.
  • Use parental control software that doesn't degrade trust - the usual parental control software is based on restricting and blocking which can lead to a feeling in the child of no being trusted. However, use a new generation parental control app like SafeToNet or Bark which focuses much less on blocking and more on using artificial intelligence to identify potential risks (and then notifying  the parent). The child is allowed to do much more online (albeit monitored) which helps alleviate the feelings that they cannot be trusted.
  • Provide less-extreme choices. Choices can be great at helping kids clearly see their options. But when you do give choices, make sure one of them is not an inflicted punishment (for not complying with the other choice) or an outcome geared purely in favour of you, the parent.

 

There is no one solution for these kinds of things. Things that work for some, won't necessarily work for others.

What do you find works? Tell us in the comments below! 

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