Denver father and psychologist Kevin Everhart says parents need to limit use of technology if they catch their children looking up inappropriate content.
Q. My 8-year-old daughter lied to me, snuck my iPad out of the house and shared inappropriate Internet content (French kissing) to her friend and her friend’s younger sister. The multiple levels of dishonesty, manipulating and bad decisions my daughter exhibited are really shocking to me. We are reasonable good parents and she admitted she knows what she did was wrong. Any words of advice?
A. I suggest that you tell your daughter that you feel angry, hurt and embarrassed – and that her sneaky behavior has resulted in your losing some of your trust in her. Although her behavior may reflect an assertion of independence, her dishonesty and theft will make it harder for her to earn independence and autonomy in the future. In other words, in trying to secretly access the adult world, she has shown just how immature she is, and thus she will need more supervision and less freedom. As a consequence, restricting your daughter’s access to media would be appropriate.
It is important to parse out your concerns about the deception and dishonesty your daughter displayed from your feelings about the sexual content she and her friends were exploring on your iPad. In the days before cyberspace, a curious child might have been tempted to smuggle a copy of Cosmopolitan or National Geographic to ogle at a sleepover. Times have changed, and the story of your daughter’s behavior is becoming an all too familiar one. Typing words like ‘boobs’ or ‘French kissing’ into an Internet search engine is a common transgression in elementary schools these days. The naiveté of these terms is somewhat reassuring, as they suggest that your daughter has limited knowledge of sexuality.
If you have not done so already, you may wish to provide her with better information about sexuality. For example, American Girl publishes a book that holistically covers sexual development as part of the maturational process. If you are proactive in this regard, you will take some of the wind out of the sails of her curiosity and decrease her motivation for clandestine reconnaissance. Moreover, she may be less likely to associate sexuality with wrongdoing.
Although sneaky behavior is common among children your daughter’s age, I share your concern about the sophisticated nature of this hijinks. Whether she has a history of dishonesty or this recent behavior is new and out-of-character, consulting with a child psychologist or other mental health professional might be helpful. Let us know how it goes.
About Kevin Everhart
Kevin Everhart, Ph.D., clinical child psychologist, is a member of the CU faculty in the Department of Psychology where he teaches child development, developmental psychopathology, theories of personality and cultural diversity. He lives in Denver with his wife and two daughters, who attend school in DPS.