Mandy is the author of Talk: A Practical Approach to Cyberparenting and Open Communication. She was kind enough to answer our questions so we can get to know her better.
Q: Tell us about your background and how you got to San Antonio.
My husband and I have been married 17 years. We both grew up in Indiana. I graduated from Indiana University (Bobby Knight was still there!), and my husband graduated from the University of Southern Indiana. In 2005, my husband accepted a job offer in San Antonio. At the time, our daughter was one. It was a tough move, but we instantly fell in love with San Antonio. We’ve been here 12 years now, and we call this place home. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Q: What do you love about San Antonio?
The people. Hands down, the people. We are such a large city, but yet it feels like everyone knows each other. I’ll never forget our first couple months here. I would think, Wow, why is everyone so nice? Love the friendliness…unless you’re stuck in traffic on 281 during rush hour! Ha! Kidding!
Q: What has been the greatest joy of motherhood for you?
It may sound weird, but I think the greatest joy is seeing my kids not struggle with the same things I did as a child. Motherhood has inspired me to be a better person. I am continually correcting faults in myself so I don’t pass on bad habits and cycles to my kids.
For example, my parents divorced when I was three. My single mom raised me, and she worked her butt off—kudos to all the single parents! When I see my kids interact and bond with my husband, it blesses my heart beyond measure. The internal work I’ve done on myself has also strengthened my marriage, and I’m thankful for those continued lessons.
Q: What has been the greatest challenge in motherhood?
Figuring out how to talk to my kids early about everything they’re hearing and seeing online. Another child gave my daughter details about a pornographic video when she was nine years old. She didn’t have a phone. I thought she was safe from the online world. She wasn’t. That was my lightbulb moment four years ago. Since then, my mission has been to figure out how to effectively keep our kids safe from the dangers of rapidly-changing technology.
Q: How do you hope your life influences and/or inspires other women?
I hope through my book and our story that other moms won’t miss [the opportunity to talk to their kids about unsafe things online] like I did. I hope that parents will learn from my mistakes and lay the foundation for open communication when their kids are little (starting in preschool or kindergarten). Then, when their kids are older and see things online or hear inappropriate content from other kids, it is normal operating procedure to talk to their parents. I give specific examples in my book on how to start early building this safe place.
Q: Describe your typical weekday.
Well, each day and season looks a little different.
Last year, I was writing my book and then going through the editing process. I would spend five to seven hours each day focused on that project. In August 2016, we legally formed a nonprofit called nextTalk to keep our kids safe online. We speak at PTAs, churches, and other events to share our cyberparenting message to dads, moms, grandparents, and school officials. You can find out more information at www.nextTalk.org.
My current days are filled leading nextTalk, team/volunteer meetings, promoting the book (I was recently on Great Day SA), preparing for speaking events, researching, and a lot of time on social media. I joke that I have two shifts. My focus is to get all my nonprofit and book work completed while my kids are at school. Then, second shift—the most important one—starts at pick-up. If the weather is nice, you’ll find my nine-year-old son and I playing basketball every afternoon in our driveway. I’ve literally only won once. He clearly does not get his athletic ability from me!
Q: If we peeked in your purse right now, what would we find?
Icebreakers Ice Cube gum, grape flavor. It’s so good!
Q: Which four words best describe you?
Fearful—I’m naturally scared, but I am really trying to break out of that mode. Like I said above, it’s really cool for me to see my kids not afraid when I naturally struggle with it.
Emotional—I discuss in my book how I’m trying to break out of the pattern of letting my feelings control me and instead think logically as a parent. It’s so important. Especially when parenting a teenager.
Introvert—I’m content staying at home by myself. I like quiet.
Learning—With each life lesson learned, I become a little more of who I really want to be. I’m a work-in-progress. Continuously learning and working on myself. When I’m asked to speak on TV and radio, they always like to refer to me as a parenting expert. Ha! I’m not that. I’m a mom in the daily trenches learning how to cyberparent. I write in real time, and I’m still learning.
To be completely honest, this question was really difficult for me. I asked my kids to help me with it, and they gave me these responses: honest, loving, crazy, courageous. I agree with the crazy assessment!
Q: Where would we find you on the weekends?
My son’s sporting activities on Saturday, Community Bible Church on Saturday night, and we try to reserve one day (normally Sunday) for family day. My favorite Sundays are the ones where we all stay in pajamas!
Q: What are your guilty pleasures?
Chocolate, reality TV, and pajamas.
Q: What are some of your San Antonio favorites?
Alamo Café for their homemade tortillas, and Jerusalem Grill for their amazing, one-of-a-kind hummus. Can I say two restaurants? That says a lot about me. I do love food!
Q: Tell us about your book.
My journey started four years ago with the story I shared above. Part one of the book is our detailed journey, and the realization that we’re in uncharted territory. We’re the first generation of parents whose elementary kids have the world at their fingertips. Literally. We can’t call our parents and say, “How did you handle Snapchat?” We must recognize this shift in parenting. Our kids are seeing (or hearing) about things SO MUCH EARLIER because of online exposure. I like the term “cyberparenting.”
Once I identified what I missed (cyberparenting), I needed to figure out how to parent it. I thought I could bubble-wrap my daughter from the far-reaching impacting of this screen-crazed world. Bubble-wrapping didn’t work. I mean, she heard about porn and didn’t even have a phone! So, instead of saying “no” to all technology, we decided to teach ourselves how to effectively parent it. As we walked through giving her a phone, I originally thought cyberparenting was about technical stuff, staying informed about each new app, etc. Being in their online world is important, but I found a better, more fool-proof solution. Restrictions and monitoring are only tools. They will always fail, and they’re also a false sense of security. The first line of defense is the relationship with your child. The answer is open communication. That seems so simple, but the process of actually achieving it is quite complicated.
Part two is my inward journey. To create the kind of open communication in our family where no topic is off limits, I had to look in the mirror. What did I need to change about myself so my kids would really tell me what they were seeing and hearing? Why was I so afraid to answer all these complicated questions my kids were asking? In this section, I address some difficult things I had to recognize about myself so I could create true open communication in my marriage, establish a safe place for my kids, and find my village.
Part three is a topics list. I did this so parents could have a resource and flip back to that specific chapter if a conversation arises where you need some refreshers or conversation examples. From sexuality to transgender issues, cyberbullying, suicide, addiction, social media, phone contracts, falling in love, dating, masturbation, mass shootings, terrorism…this list goes on. I do share specifically how we handle these issues in our home, but please hear me here: it is your family, your choice. My goal is not to tell you how to parent, but to start this conversation.
Q: What do you hope your book will do for people?
As we’re all struggling to keep our head above water and stay up-to-date with the ever-changing assortment of apps, I want to provide some hope for parents. Yes, it’s important to be in their online world and stay in-tune with technology. But, the single most important thing we can do to keep our kids safe online is create honest, on-the-go open communication, a healthy ongoing dialogue that will get more detailed as your kids get older.
I’m not talking about family sit-on-the-couch meetings. I’m not talking about the sex talk. We are aiming for on the go. Always talking. Routine, normal conversation. I want kids to be able to ask their parents as we’re driving down the road, “Hey, what does transgender mean?” “My friend says she’s bisexual, what do I do?”
Kids need a safe place to ask these questions. They are drowning in a sea of social media and confusion. I don’t want them googling it anymore. I want parents to be empowered and equipped by using the parent filter (calm on the outside, but a mess on the inside) so we can calmly, casually talk about all these difficult topics. I don’t want it to be awkward or unusual but normal operating procedure.
At the end of the day, I don’t want parents to live in fear anymore. I’m no longer scared about what my kids will see online or about what they’ll hear from other kids. Because they will come home and ask me. NO. MORE. FEAR. Hence the title of my book, TALK: A Practical Approach to Cyberparenting and Open Communication. You can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/TALK-Practical-Approach-Cyberparenting-Communication/dp/0692833188.
Q: Do you have any future plans to share?
Well, there’s been discussion of a second book. I will respond with, “Maybe.” I do have some exciting news I can share, though! Starting May 6th, you’ll find me and Kim Elerick (our nextTalk Director) hosting our own nextTalk radio program! Tune in to AM 630 The Word every Saturday morning at 10:00 A.M. If you are not in San Antonio, we’ll be sharing these weekly podcasts on social media and our website.