I’d like to introduce you to Mandy Majors, founder of nextTalk, an online support group for parents. If you have children, I suggest you head over and sign up for her group. Then hop over to Amazon and purchase her newly released book, TALK: A Practical Approach to Cyberparenting and Open Communication (find a full review here).
Mandy took the time to answer a few questions for Hollywood Jesus readers. This is just a snippet of the wisdom she shares in TALK.
Q: In the book, you share your journey toward cyberparenting. What motivates you to take this message to other parents?
The discoveries I’ve made on this journey have been life-changing for my family. I’m learning how to build a relationship with my children and talk through the new challenges we, as parents, face in the online world. I’ve made quite a few mistakes along the way. I don’t want parents to “miss it” like I did. It’s the foundation of why I do this.
I’ve always thought of open communication as serious, sit-on-the-couch family meetings. Instead, I recognized the key comes directly from Deuteronomy 6:6-7. “Repeat [these commands] again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when are you on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.” It’s about a real, healthy, on-the-go dialogue. An ongoing conversation that gets more detailed as they get older. By the way, “when you are on the road” and “when you are going to bed” are the most relevant times for our family’s talk time!
Q: TALK is full of helpful recommendations for cyberparenting. What is one thing parents can do today to make a big impact?
Start building a safe place for your child. You can use simple statements to try and open up the discussion, such as:
“When you hear a new word or phrase, please ask me. I’ll answer your questions.”
“Not everything you hear, see or read is true. Often kids give wrong information. So please ask me when you aren’t sure what something means.”
It’s important to remain calm when they ask questions. Don’t overreact (I call it “crazy-mom mode” because I’ve been guilty many times). And, answer their questions honestly. Be their source of information. One last thing in this process of creating a safe place, don’t share their questions or post them on social media. It’s imperative to build their trust.
These simple conversations can start at a very young age before they have their own phone. If that foundation is built, once they get a phone, it will be normal operating procedure to ask you when they see new things online. Starting early with open communication makes a huge difference.
Q: If a parent feels their child already has too many liberties with their technology, how can they begin to take control back?
This is a tough one. You don’t want to take away privileges if they’ve done nothing wrong. You could open up a new line of communication by saying, “You know, I think I may have missed some things. I didn’t realize how the online world and social media had changed parenting. I’d love for us to talk about things you may be seeing online. Is there anything weird you’ve seen online that you want to talk about? You can ask me anything, I won’t share it with anyone and I’ll give you the correct information.”
Also, I would reassure them they won’t be in trouble for being honest. One time, my teen daughter showed me a very inappropriate picture she saw on Instagram. I didn’t get mad and make her delete the app. I thanked her so much for telling me, and then I reported the picture so it was taken down. We talked about how it was difficult to get those kinds of images out of our mind so that’s why it’s important to try and avoid them. End of story. Many times, our gut reaction is to make them delete the app. But they didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, if they reported it to you, they did everything right.
Q: You talk to parents across the country. What would you say is their most common concern regarding technology?
Pornography. Hands-down, I get contacted most about this than any other issue. Even if kids don’t have their own phone, they’re shown porn from other kids. It’s an epidemic. I devoted a whole chapter to pornography with research, personal stories, and conversation starter ideas. I recommend you start talking in early elementary school about this to prepare them for how to respond. There are kids in elementary school who have porn addictions. There are kids sexually abusing other kids because of porn. This is one of the most important discussions we can have with our children to prepare them for the online world.
Even if you choose not to give your children a phone, please still talk to them about porn. Restrictions on family tablets, iPads, and school computers will fail at some point (I have numerous personal examples myself). Even with parental restrictions set, it will not catch anything within an app. So, this whole cyberparenting thing is way more than setting restrictions, it’s about establishing a real, honest relationship with our kids.
Q: TALK is already making an impact. What has been your favorite “thank you” moment so far?
Well, this question is pretty special. People’s faces and tearful stories flash through my mind. My favorite part about this whole thing is hearing other people’s stories. I try to keep the details close and not share without approval (even anonymously). So, I’m going to answer from a general perspective and tell you the three most common “thank you” moments.
I LOVE (get giddy over!) when parents say they crawl into bed at night with their kids and say, “You know you can always ask me anything, right?” The children start asking all kinds of crazy questions. Parents will contact me and say, “Oh my gosh! They did have questions. I just needed to ask and make myself available! I’m so glad you told me to stay calm.” Ha! I love this.
I love hearing moms talk about how open communication has not only changed the relationships with their children but their marriage also. I have a whole marriage chapter in my book, it was one of my favorites to write. It blesses my heart every single time to see marriages strengthened because of open communication.
Lastly, (this one happens the most) parents contact me in panic-mode about finding porn on their kids’ devices. I remind them to remain calm, step away from the child and the device. BREATHE. I will quote Deuteronomy 23:5, “God turned the intended curse into a blessing because He loves you.” I will tell them this can be a defining moment to develop more open communication. When they contact me several months or even years later, I love to hear how they’re actually thankful for that moment or that online exposure. It awoke them to the online world and its dangers.
Cyberparenting has blindsided all of us. Now, we just need to be on guard and face it.
Q: What do your kids think about the fact that Mom has a book about cyberparenting coming out?
It really has been a family project from the beginning. When I started speaking and writing, I quickly found that parents responded to personal stories. They wanted real-life conversations. I’ve had to ask for my kids’ permission with every story I share.
There have been stories deleted from the book because my kids weren’t comfortable with me using them. My main priority is protecting my relationship with them. They know I am their safe place, and I won’t share anything without their approval. It has been a process for all of us, which has generated a lot of great discussions.
One of the most rewarding things is seeing my teen daughter “get” the message of open communication. For example, when she went through sex ed at school, she came home and said she was able to complete the worksheet before the teacher went over anything. When one of her classmates asked how she knew all this stuff, she said, “My mom and I talk about it.” Her friend thought it was cool. My daughter realized that not everyone can talk with their parents about these things. Little by little, she has begun to understand why I’m so passionate about it. She has even spoken with me on stage. Parents and kids love to hear her side of our cyberparenting story!
As for my tween son, he doesn’t really care. He just wants me to play more football and basketball with him! Ha!
As you can see, Mandy is a gifted communicator and shares that gift with those of us searching for help in this technology-driven world. You can find more helpful advice on cyberparenting and open communication in her book, TALK, available now on Amazon. Read a full Hollywood Jesus review here.