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Want to help your kids survive in today's world? Teach them to cop on

The fake Internet world our children are growing up in is making them more vulnerable in the real world – but you can help.

Image: child with boxing gloves image via Shutterstock

THE CONCEPT OF having “cop on” is one most of us will be familiar with, probably because our parents at one time or another told us we were lacking it after we did something stupid or reckless as teens.

The modern age has created a whole new set of challenges – and dangers – for today’s children to face and more than ever they need to have their wits about them.

Unfortunately, according to one child and adolescent psychotherapist in Ireland, today’s children are seriously lacking in ‘cop on’ and if we want them to survive in the world, we better start drumming it into them fast.

With the rise of technology in the family home, Colman Noctor said there “seems to be a dilution of the capacity to develop ‘cop on’, the capacity to look at adversity and challenges and make a decision based on reflection, even if it’s an unpopular decision”.

It’s all about being savvy, thinking of the consequences and looking before you leap.

“Nowadays, we take a picture and put it straight on Facebook, there’s no real moments of reflection. You could never be bored again, even for a moment, standing in a queue in Lidl or just sitting waiting somewhere, you always have your phone as a distraction.”

For adults, the technological encroachment is not such a big issue, as Noctor explained we all have a ‘pre-Internet identity’ and know where the line is.

Many of today’s children are failing to learn the value of simple traits like tolerance and patience because the technology around them is so fast and offers so many options. But the real world is not always like that.

“It’s important to be able to see that you can not get what you want but will still survive,” Noctor said. “That’s an important lesson for life.”

I think the world has changed so much for family life, so how do we hold on to some of that traditional stuff that really is so vital?

This colloquial term, ‘cop on’, used by so many frustrated Irish parents over the years, is the title of the psychologists book, as he believes it is one of the best values to teach a child.

Teenagers in particular are extremely vulnerable online and not just when it comes to sexual predators or cyberbullying. Social media used to be about sharing feelings. Now, Noctor said teens are posting pictures and statuses online to “generate feelings”, leaving evaluation of their self-worth in the hands of followers who will either like, share, retweet and favourite their post, or not.

So what do you do if you want to make sure your kids have enough ‘cop on’ to get through life in one piece?

  • It may seem obvious, but spend time with your children to teach them to be savvy. Noctor said children have “arrived in the world in the middle of a conversation and parents need to inform them of what happened before”. So, talk to them. 
  • Involve children in decision making so they take on some responsibility.
  • Start supervision of their online activity tight and then loosen it. As they display more ‘cop on’, they get more freedom.
  • Never let them think that if they access porn or are being cyberbullied that the plug will be pulled or you’ll confiscate their phone. Tell them that whatever happens, you’ll help to work it out.
  • Most importantly, display ‘cop on’ yourself. Noctor said if you are tweeting at breakfast or pushing the swing and posting on Facebook while breastfeeding, you’re showing technology is wonderful and mysterious – and that it’s as important or more important than they are.

“Before, you only had to compete with siblings for your parents’ attention, now you have an iPhone to contend with too,” Noctor quipped.

When it comes to deciding to let your children use technology, 13 is the recommended age for letting a teen set up a Facebook page and at this age, you should be friends with them on the site and monitoring most of what they do, then take a step back as the years go on.

“That’s the importance of ‘cop on’ really,” Noctor said. “When they do something wrong, chances are you won’t be there, so you have to be in their head when it happens.”

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