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Bad Things Happen to Good Parents: Digital Parenting Tips

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Digital parenting is just plain hard. Tim Woda, co-founder of, understands this and is trying to help parents in the Internet age.

"Answer me this -- do you know who your child made friends with on Facebook yesterday?" Woda poses this question whenever he discusses Internet safety with concerned parents.

The common response is what you expect. Woda says most honest parents answer no, mostly because they are not that tuned in to the children's Internet lives.

Woda should know. As a parent himself, he is dealing with these same struggles. Five years ago, Woda's 14-year-old son accepted a friend-request from a friend-of-a-friend on Facebook. This new "friend" turned out to be an Internet sexual predator. Back then, Woda thought that he had taken a proactive measure toward Internet safety.

"We tried to do all of these things that the experts told us to do around parental control software and putting the computer for the house in the kitchen and talking to our kids about smart decisions. The challenge is that kids don't do every single thing you want them to do."

Bad things happen to good parents and teenagers have minds of their own. Their desire for privacy very easily outweighs their interest in sharing with their parents.

Studies show that two out of three parents are ignorant of their children's Internet activities. In part, this is because kids actively hide the things that they are doing. For example, more than 50 percent of all children routinely erase their Internet search histories.

Following his son's abduction, Woda describes the hard reality he had to accept regarding his role as a parent. "I had to ask myself, 'How did this happen?' Was it because I didn't love my child? Of course not. Was it because I didn't put rules in place, because I wasn't aware? No. "

It happened because the world around him changed faster than his approach to keep up with it, a common concern for today's parents. Despite the near ubiquity of social media in our daily lives, it is important to remember that a mere 15 years ago, there was no Facebook, Google or Tumblr.

The reality is that while technology has advanced, quickly, this generation's parenting skills have not kept pace. It may not be our fault, but it is certainly our problem.

"People tend to think about this as a technology problem: cyber bullying, sexting," Woda says. "But the reality is, these are parenting problems."

I asked Woda to share a few tips with us about how to address incorporate technology into our everyday parenting.

1. Teach kids that technology is a tool, not just a toy. Start talking to your children early and often about ways to use technology in a constructive, productive way. If kids see technology as a tool as opposed to simply a device to entertain them, they tend to find more productive ways of using it.

2. Parents need to participate in their children's digital world. Parents need to play games with their children. I go into schools all the time and ask, "How many of you have ridden bikes with your kids? How many of you have played dollhouse with your kids?" Parents' hands go up. "How many of you have played Minecraft online? How many of you have played Farmville with your children?" Arms never go up. Moms and Dads need to appreciate that the toys of childhood have changed and if they want to engage it might include sitting around playing Minecraft together. It may not be Monopoly.

3. Parents need to set usage limitations on mobile phones. Phones are computers and we need to set the same limitations on phones as we do computers. Most parents don't set usage limitations until after there is a problem. That's part of why the problems happen to begin with; they don't appreciate that a mobile phone is a small computer. They keep the family computer in the living room and then they send their kid with their smart phone to their bedroom at night. They wonder why their kid isn't getting any sleep.

4. Parents need to teach their kids to not be duped by the use of the term "buddy" or "friend." Just because a website calls it a buddy or a friend does not mean it's not a complete stranger. A friend is someone you have laid eyeballs on, that you have met and have a relationship with. We tell our kids all the time, "Don't talk to strangers." Then we completely throw those rules out the window when we get online. Parents need to know this, to model the right behavior and to teach kids not to engage strangers on the Internet.

We will share more of Woda's technology and parenting tips in the next couple weeks.