We had the pleasure a couple of weeks back of meeting Dr. Adam Pletter (via Twitter). Dr. Pletter, Psy.D is a licensed clinical psychologist from Bethesda Maryland who specializes in the treatment of children, adolescents, and young adults. The issues he sees frequently cross over into the area of digital parenting, a topic very close to our hearts.
Dr. Pletter is also the founder and chief knowledge merchant at iParent101, an educational resource for parents and families focused on improving digital parenting and making sure kids and teens are using technology, the internet and social media safely and responsibly.
We had a long conversation with Dr. Pletter on Friday and wanted to share his thoughts, philosophy and some of his experiences. Questions and answers are paraphrased since we didn’t record the conversation. All errors are ours.
Q: What is the philosophy behind iParent 101?
Dr. Pletter: Whether they believe it or not, most parents are not digital natives, and are afraid of the technology that their kids are using. They’d like to think that they understand enough to guide good digital behavior but they don’t, generally. Kids tend to not think through what they’re doing online before they do it, often with adverse consequences.
We want parents to be equipped to help kids avoid those negative consequences.
Q: How do you help parents be better at the digital thing?
Dr. Pletter: First, I try to help parents understand the risks around child and teen use of electronic devices, the internet and social media. Second, we focus on the safeguards and resources built into the kids’ devices – mostly but not exclusively their smartphones.
We impress upon parents that smartphones are adult devices. In the same way that parents wouldn’t hand a teen car keys before teaching them how to drive safely, parents should grant a level of internet access that is age appropriate. What they are allowed to do online should evolve over time, at a pace that parents are comfortable with. Most of this can be done with the parental controls built into today’s smartphones.
Q: What are parents most worried about? What question do you get the most?
Dr. Pletter: Pretty simply it’s, “How do I keep my kids safe?” Safe from strangers, safe from places online that have adult content that they shouldn’t be seeing.
Dr. Pletter: It is problem, particularly with group messaging. Kids are getting teased, and some are getting excluded. The FOMO is real, and kids are getting left out and seeing it online as it happens. If kids are posting pictures of a party on Instagram, that could be very hurtful for the kids who weren’t invited.
Q: What age do you recommend for the first smartphone or internet access?
Dr. Pletter: For the smartphone, I don’t like to see it happen before 11 or 12. With younger kids, if parents need to keep in touch, a flip phone will suffice. For internet access in general, it depends on the level of maturity that your child is demonstrating – common sense, good judgment and communication skills.
Q: Where do you see the most problems?
Dr. Pletter: It’s definitely the messaging apps. Parents are familiar with texting, but when it’s done via messaging app, parents often aren’t aware that it is happening at all.
Q: Is pornography an issue that you come across at all?
Dr. Pletter: I think that parents aren’t talking to kids about pornography enough because they don’t understand how readily available it is – often just a couple of clicks away and accessible via computer, tablet or phone. Pornography is so easy to find that kids think it’s perfectly okay to be looking at it.
Q: Do you recommend taking away the phone if there’s a problem?
Dr. Pletter: No, I’m not a fan of consequences without a learning experience. If all you’ve done is take away the device, you haven’t changed the behavior that caused the problem.
Q: How do you recommend that parents get up to speed?
Dr. Pletter: YouTube is a great example. There is plenty of educational and entertaining content for kids of all ages, and yet there is lots of adult content as well. Young kids shouldn’t be turned loose on YouTube without some parental oversight. The good news is that the parental safeguards on YouTube are pretty robust, but they’re easy to understand, implement and change over time as your child grows up. Understanding and managing YouTube controls is pretty good shorthand for controlling access on other devices and across the web.
Q: Any final thoughts?
Dr. Pletter: There is no way around the fact that by giving a child a smartphone, parents are agreeing to take on a whole new level of parenting responsibility. It takes some work, but it can be done well. Doing nothing and hoping for the best isn’t a great option, but that’s what many parents find themselves doing.
To read more about Dr. Pletter or to inquire about a seminar in your area, you can click here.
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