Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

June 2, 2011

Dangerous Tools and Safety Goggles

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 5:51 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

     It happens to me fairly frequently. As both a child psychologist, an educator, and a bully prevention practitioner and researcher, I am asked about the terrors of texting, the intrusion of the internet and the dangers of all things electronic. Parents and educators struggling to create safe environments for children and teens worry and wonder about what technology to allow and what to ban from their homes and schools. From a young age, I remember watching my Dad work in his shop filled with extremely dangerous tools – saws bigger than me with spinning blades, sharp and powerful drills, a heavy vise that would smash a foot if dropped. Dad never banned me from the garage – but he did make sure we had all the safety equipment we needed, not least of which were pairs of safety goggles.

Safety goggles are a great metaphor for how parents and educators can confront the dangers of the cyber world. Just as it is potentially deadly to look away from a circular saw, closing our eyes to the electronic media in the lives of children is a mistake with potentially tragic consequences. Parents and educators, I’m afraid, have become too focused on banning and not on the best way to attenuate the danger . . . careful and consistent supervision.

Every home has danger lurking within. My gas stove has an open flame and operates using deadly gas. It also, however, cooks the chicken soup that cures my family’s colds and warms their hearts. I would no sooner ban the stove from my home than I would eliminate all the electrical outlets (for fear of electrocution) or throw out the bathtubs (to prevent accidental drowning). Parents of infants and toddlers know well that baby proofing, while critical, is no substitute for constant and careful supervision. Yes, use outlet covers, but don’t assume your crawling child won’t figure out how to remove them if left unattended.

Children grow, and over time, need less supervision to remain safe. Parents and educators want to promote independence. So we go from saying a loud “NO” to a toddler who reaches for the stove top, to allowing a child to stand on a chair and watch Mom or Dad cook, to having a pre-teen help stir the sauce, to inviting teens to make their own dinner. Through the developmental process, we teach, over and over, the safety parameters, and wean our supervision only when we see the task has been safely mastered. We don’t make decisions based on chronological age, since some 8 year olds are more careful and competent than some 16 year olds.

Technology is a bit more complicated than our kitchen appliances. As dangerous as a stove can be, parents can rest assured that it is not maliciously targeting a child’s weaknesses. What happens at the kitchen stove is private and short-lived, possibly forgotten by the next day. The internet is public and forever. Yet with all these important differences, the need for careful, ongoing teaching, and developmentally appropriate supervision is exactly the same whether we want children to learn to safely cook a meal, or live in the digital world. Parents and educators would not allow most children to set up a private bunsen burner in their bedroom, yet they feel they are invading children’s privacy when they are the “parent over shoulder” reviewing a teen’s on-line use.

Safety goggles are bulky, and make a loud statement that the goggle wearer is present and watching. In the same way, parents and educators should not attempt to hide their supervision of children’s electronic use. Let children and teens know that your access to their facebook, email, and text messages, is a requirement for their continued use of such technology. Employers routinely tell staff that all computers will be spot-checked to guarantee that they are used appropriately, so this is not infantilizing – it’s preparation for life. Parents who feel their children’s private lives should be allowed to remain private, and don’t want to “snoop” should buy their children an old-fashioned diary, the kind with the tiny gold key. NOTHING your child does in the cyber-world is private. If it is being shared on the world wide web, if it is travelling in the ether, parents and educators have not just a right, but a clear responsibility to be sure it is appropriate and safe.

I would have been devastated if my Dad’s shop was off limits to me. I learned so much watching him work, and the smell of sawdust still brings back great memories. I’m glad he always had the safety goggles ready for me, to allow me access and participation in a world filled with dangers. Despite all its potential dangers, I want my children to benefit from skype-ing distant relatives, having decades of literature and research at their fingertips, and accessing information with simple keystrokes. But I’ll be, always, the parent over shoulder, my safety goggles strapped on, supervising and watching, to keep them safe.

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3 Comments »

  1. Fabulous and on-target once again. I wish your blog was mandatory reading!

    Comment by Etti Siegel — June 2, 2011 @ 9:40 pm |Reply

    • Thanks so much for your words of support. Sometimes it feels like mandatory writing – but life seems to provide plenty of material – so I keep at it. It is so nice to know it is helpful and appreciated.

      Comment by Life's Toolbox — June 3, 2011 @ 3:15 am |Reply

  2. This is a very good article, thanks. People should read this before they go and get themselves hurt 🙂

    Thanks

    Comment by Anna — June 6, 2011 @ 8:33 am |Reply


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