Guest Blog – Parent Awareness – My Journey by Hector Solis (Awareness Podcast)

Our latest blog is brought to you by a dad of 2 girls who is driving social awareness of safeguarding children, we are pleased to introduce Awareness Podcast host Hector Solis. I first came across the Awareness podcast while searching for information on Breck Bednar. I had met Brecks mum at the Digital Kids Show in Manchester. Breck was murdered after being groomed online and his mum set up the Breck Foundation in his memory. I was looking for information about what happened and how the grooming had taken place. The Awareness podcast had a very informative and well researched podcast about Breck Bednar. After listening to further Awareness podcasts, which looked in some depth at the techniques that people use to solicit and groom children as well as young adults, I contacted Hector to commend him on some excellent and really informative podcasts. Subsequently I asked Hector to write a blog for the iNet Guardian blog.

When I read Hectors blog one thing really stood out. While technology has impacted our every day lives and without it things seem more difficult and long winded, technology also challenges how we parent. As parents we have to stay aware and educated as to what our children are doing online. We have to engage with them in an area that we may not be familiar with just so we understand the risks that our children face. We have to guide them in how to stay safe online and offline as children are often the last line of defence in their own safety.

Enjoy the blog and please take a look at the Awareness website https://www.awarenesspodcast.com/ as it will give you a deeper insight and understanding into the risks the Internet presents to our children.

How I got here today

It was March of 2017, my life as a father consisted of spending my days working for a global corporation and nights with my family, 2 girls and a wonderful wife. By all accounts, the typical American family, living and loving as we progress to each of life’s major milestones. I was a co-host on the Typical Daddy podcast which at the time had created 8 episodes in season 1 which concluded on October 24th 2016. I was a contributor and host on this show that was created by a friend and co-worker. Sometime over the holiday season of 2016, I decided to try my hand at producing, editing, and scoring the 2nd season. Up until then, the topics were light hearted, with some discussion on parenting as well as some current events. For season 2, I wanted to go a little deeper into the topics of parenthood, I wanted to express that side of me that is interested in Psychology. During the planning for season 2, we came up with topics that would cause us to do dig a little deeper. So we embarked on the journey to find parenting topics that were in the news and we were going to discuss them as a group of fathers from our point of view. The first four episodes of Season 2 would change my parenting mindset and the course of my relationship with my daughters.

* Season 2 Episode 1: Teachers having sex with students

* Season 2 Episode 2: Are Parents Prepared? The Dangers of Kids Using Social Media

* Season 2 Episode 3: Interview with Author Nancy Jo Sales

* Season 2 Episode 4: Cyberbullying

What I believed would be a quick jaunt into doing research on the dangers of social media quickly turned from minutes to hours, hours to days, days to weeks, weeks to months, and so on until this day. What I found shook me and caused me to question what I really know about parenting and how I was going to continue parenting from then on. Almost immediately, I felt out of touch and like I was sending my girls into a technology storm with unimaginable dangers.

The first domino to fall

Season 2 Episode 2 was the first time I had ever interviewed anyone with any expertise (Nancy Jo Sales is an investigative reporter and author of the book “American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers”). During the interview she mentioned many disturbing things from cyberbullying to suicide. The interview was conducted by another host and I, but the most important impact on me was that people were willing to talk to me about their work. At this time, a local story was making the news on a nightly basis, it was the story of David Molak, a 16-year-old who committed suicide due to bullying and cyberbullying. His mother, Maurine Molak and their family were fighting to create a new law in Texas (it was passed into law) to support parents when it comes to cyberbullying. After some back and forth with my friend and co-host, I decided to contact Maurine and ask her if she would come on to the podcast, so we could help raise awareness. She contacted me almost immediately and 30 minutes later we had agreed to work together. After my discussion with her, I quickly realized that the Typical Daddy podcast was not a place for such discussions, at least not at the detail or amount of time I felt it deserved. Most of the dads on the podcast were not as comfortable looking into these types of stories and I didn’t want to put them in a position of having to discuss them. So, I decided to create a podcast, a podcast from which I would share everything I learned on my way to awareness. A podcast that would allow the story to be told without time or episode restrictions. The Awareness podcast launched in October 2017.

The evolution of my parenting strategy

After many hours of researching, I came across the dangers of being online, from device addiction to online grooming, to child sex trafficking, to suicide. These are all very dark topics to explore and there are many people that would rather not know what is out there. I have had a family member tell me “I don’t want to know how bad the world is”. This family member has 2 daughters similar in age to my girls (not yet in middle school). Initially I was shocked, but I quickly realized this is how most people react. Another reason people don’t want to know is because the information is fragmented, people see the stories every day, most just flicking pass them on their timelines. I understand, I was that guy before 2017. You see I come from a generation that believes “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me”. When I was a child, we had to handle bullying by fighting back, so I was in the group that believed our kids are just weaker now. I believed that they are just spoiled and entitled. All this changed in March of 2017, speaking to Maurine Molak and researching the stories about bullying/cyberbullying. This led me to other dangers our kids face in this new world of information communications technology. There is way more information available then we have the ability to consume. This puts us at a disadvantage as parents.

How do we control the flow?

How can we stay ahead of the Niagara Falls of information pounding our kids?

How do we protect our kids from the predators lurking behind every byte of information?

How do we protect them from the people wanting to do our kids harm and from those who unwillingly contribute to them being harmed?

I have asked myself these questions along with many others. I have researched strategies on how to stop bullying/cyberbullying from happening, to stop predators from grooming our children. I found that most strategies have included removing the devices from our kids, citing reasons like meaningful relationships are becoming less possible as more and more kids and families are spending hours on their devices. More and more of social interactions are happening online and our kids need to keep up or be left behind. What surprised me was that the people who have been impacted in a devastating way by the misuse of social media are not advocating to remove social media from kids but rather advocating for the responsible use of this technology. The more I think about how human connectedness and communication is evolving, the more I can’t help the feeling that fifty to one hundred years from now people are going to see clearly the mistakes we are making as parents today trying to adapt to this rapidly changing world. My parenting strategy has evolved from limiting technology to embracing it and allowing my girls to learn as much about technology and social media under my supervision.

My Reasoning

For all the experts that say that deep human connections cannot be made over the internet, I present online grooming. I have read, story after story about how online groomers have established deep meaningful relationships with their targets. Yes, even adults have been groomed. If deep human connections are not possible, then how is grooming possible? Why is it extremely dangerous? Studies are emerging and are starting to show how the interaction with our devices effects our brain1. If we are being programmed to deeply connect with our devices, it wouldn’t be a big leap to see how that connection can be interpreted as a connection with a person on the other end. It is now my belief that it is a fallacy that deep human connections can’t be made because we are glued to our devices. The transfer of information, regardless of the mechanism, is what establishes connection with another person. Sure, you get more information when in physical proximity of the person. When you are around someone you are receiving information from just about all 5 senses. That information then elicits a chemical response in the brain. If the response is good, a connection is made, if it’s bad then you stay away. However, our devices are already eliciting a positive chemical response every time we receive a

notification. So, the information being processed might be misconstrued. Of course human connections are very complicated and sophisticated, so I don’t want to minimize that, but the point I am trying to make is that it is possible. If we understand this as parents, we can then begin to develop strategies to teach our kids to be ready, to question the information, to know what it means to trust someone they don’t know, so that they can better decide who to establish a meaningful relationship with. I am just a parent, trying to do the best I can for my kids.

Host – Awareness Podcast