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Youth instructor offers insights on raising children in the digital age

Friday, January 25, 2013

There are many challenges raising a child, and those challenges are even greater with the new digital technologies that today's youngsters are very much in tune with.

However, the director of the Indiana Youth Institute says parents shouldn't fear the technologies of the Internet, smartphones, tablets, laptops, video games, and other electronic gizmos.

Bill Stanczykiewicz, president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute, was in Linton last week and shared his thoughts about raising a child in the digital age. The Greene County Alliance and the Indiana Youth Institute sponsored the event.

The Indiana Youth Institute is a statewide nonprofit agency that is a resource for youth-service providers.

Stanczykiewicz spoke to a group of about 90 youth workers, faith-based leaders, educators and counselors for a Youth Worker Cafe.

"Technology is like fire. Fire can cook your food. Fire can burn your house down," Stanczykiewicz said. "We want parents to understand that just because you give a child a cell phone or a tablet or have access to the computer at home doesn't mean that giving your child a computer it doesn't stop you from being a parent."

Stanczykiewicz had some practical advice for parents to consider. The Internet is a valuable educational tool, if it's handled correctly.

The father of four children says it's essential to establish guidelines, boundaries, and time restraints.

He says having the computer in a place where everybody can see it, and being able to look over your children's shoulder while they are on the computer, is important.

Also, he suggests never having a cell phone in a child's room and establishing assigned times when the devices are to be turned off.

"Certainly we want our kids in technology, but we want there to be boundaries and we want there to be limits," Stanczykiewicz said. "We tell our kids all the computers are off at 10 o'clock."

Stanczykiewicz, who lives in Zionsville and also teaches at Purdue University in West Lafayette, says there are perpetrators online who do not have the best interest of our children in mind.

"Our law enforcement only has so much time and money, but they will put cops online to find these predators because they know they are out there. So parents beware, keep your kid off (the computer). It doesn't mean no. It means limits, boundaries, guidelines and common sense," he said.

Stanczykiewicz says it's not a bad thing for parents to have their own Facebook accounts and use it to monitor their children's activities.

He suggests if parents don't know how to set up a Facebook account, they should ask their kids because they know.

With a little parental encouragement, Stanczykiewicz said, they will agree to be monitored or they won't be allowed to use Facebook like their friends and other school acquaintances.

"We communicate with each other (on Facebook), but it's a way for me to stay engaged and keep and eye on it," he said. "Rules like no private places on Facebook that Mom and Dad can't see are good."

Stanczykiewicz says he's often asked, "How old is a kid to get online? How old is a kid when he or she can start texting or they can have a phone?"

He says, "Each house is different. Each child in a family is different. So think about when do we first give a child a knife to cut their own food? When do we first let a child have a match to light the candle at the dinner table? It's that kind of a thing. One of your kids might be younger than another. It's the same thing with technology. You remind your kids when they have the maturity and can be trusted and you put the guidelines in place and they'll understand it."

Stanczykiewicz says there is no need to scare our children away from digital technology and tell them not to use it.

"Some of us lock our doors and we certainly protect ourselves in our homes, one way or another. We should do the same thing with our kids," Stanczykiewicz stressed. "You as a parent just have to be wise. Technology is here and is part of every job."

Stanczykiewicz recommends a website for parents called "Covenant Eyes" (www.covenanteyes.com) . On this site, a parent can set it up to block undesirable sites, and any website that the child tries to go to the website will send an email to the parent.

"Nothing is 100 percent, but there are some steps we (as parents) can take in a protective way and a preventative way," he said.

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