Parents in today’s tech age intuitively understand the life-changing importance of the decisions we make around kids and technology, but often feel uncertain and overwhelmed about where to start.
Our conversations about online parenting with other parents are not based on handed down generational experience but rather guesswork and lore. We are the first generation of parents feeling our way through what online parenting entails. What we are doing is unprecedented, and we are creating new benchmarks as we go, not knowing what this technological generation of childhood will look like when they are fully grown.
There are no proven answers to the questions we are asking about online parenting. That’s what makes this parenting lark so difficult. Well, that, and the fact that even the questions are changing at an alarming rate! Here are our 10 top tips to keep in mind as your kids start going and living online:
Recognise the importance of technology
Technology has massive benefits and our kids need tech skills both now and in the future. Parenting is not about shielding our children from the tools of the world, but equipping them to use those tools properly. This means we need to be active and intentional in teaching them how to use technology effectively, safely and to its fullest potential.
Encourage and model moderation and balance
While we know very little about the future of technology and how it might look, we do have ample research on the effects of too much screen time on kids. Impacts are wide-ranging and include attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity.
Parents have a big job managing the “black hole” lure of the digital world for their kids, monitoring their media diet for both duration and content, and helping them understand the difference between educational and entertaining screen time when making choices about how to spend time online.
Putting a little time into changing device, app and game settings (such as switching off autoplay, setting screen time reminders, removing notifications etc) will go a long way to helping your child control their devices rather than being controlled by them.
Be In Touch recommends starting as early as possible with conscious habits around screen time. Agreeing and monitoring your child’s online time and having screen switch-off times can have a hugely positive impact on your family’s nutrition and sleep for starters, not to mention their mental health and balance. You can also try making some days ‘screen-free’ in your home to encourage everyone to pursue other more active and/or less technology-driven ways to entertain themselves. Remember that if our own “wheel of life” is unbalanced by too much tech, our kids will most certainly follow suit!
Apply “real” age restrictions on technology
One of the big misnomers in the tech world is age regulation. Unlike movies and TV, there is no agency tasked with rating downloadable Apps, websites or pop-up adverts online. The result is that app and game developers set their age restrictions on app stores, often lower than the real age rating should be, in the interests of profit.
Be In Touch recommends that parents know the “real age” rating of games, apps, and social media sites before they are downloaded or used by children, and agree on the rules and boundaries of downloading and using apps and games.
Keep the face-to-face conversation alive
Technology is permanently changing the way we communicate and whether it is for the better or not remains to be seen. Older generations will argue technology is destroying conversation, younger generations will argue technology is enhancing it. Only time will tell.
But either way, our children live in a world where their immediate elders still respect and expect verbal conversation. For our children to be successful, they must be able to communicate both online and in-person, and the 8 fundamental requirements for good and effective communication are not easily met when it is happening online rather than face to face!
Agree on family digital habits
A Digital Family Alliance is a great way to agree on device rules and boundaries. Some of the habits to think about including are –
- Using devices in open, common areas of the home
- Keeping devices out of bedrooms at night
- Setting device “No-Go” times and areas
- Agreeing to device use limits and consequences.
Leading by example and modelling the kind of positive online behaviour you would like your children to use is critical to the success of your digital family alliance!
Every picture and personal detail that is posted and shared on social media and the internet contributes to your digital footprint, an indelible track record of both good and bad decisions made online that will impact your life journey in often unexpected ways.
THINK before you post! is key to teaching kids the life-long practice of leaving a good footprint online. Is it – True? Helpful? Inspiring? Necessary? Kind?
The praise of others is a fickle thing upon which to measure our worth, a foolish, ever-changing target. It often negatively impacts the decisions we make and the life we choose to live, but it never fully satisfies our hearts or our souls. Our kids need to understand that their self-worth must be found offline – it cannot be calculated by likes and shares and retweets.
Nor can we dare to compare ourselves to the online facade of happiness, success, and an image of having it all together. We post our most glorious moments online but hide the most painful. And it is equally important for us as adults to remember it too!
We all know it, but it needs repeating, often: remember that you can’t believe everything you see on the internet!
Fake news, clickbait and hoaxes abound in the digital world. Kids are often savvier than their parents at spotting what looks dodgy, and it makes for great family dinner conversation!
Oversee sharing and chatting
Talk to your kids about the dangers and possible consequences of sharing personal information, photos and videos online in public forums or with people they do not know in real life. This includes anything that can identify them personally such as their name, phone number, home address, email, or name of their school.
Keeping their location private when online is a must-do habit for kids to learn. Most apps, networks and devices have default geo-tagging features which make your whereabouts public and can lead someone directly to you. These features should be turned off for obvious privacy and safety reasons.
Teach children about body safety and boundaries, including the importance of saying ‘no’ to inappropriate requests both in the physical world and the virtual world. As adults, we know that some people online aren’t who they say they are, but children and young people can be alarmingly naïve about who they are chatting with if they are not taught to be cyber wise from an early age. Make sure you are a part of your child’s social media circles and ensure you monitor their posts. Your children may resist, but make it a condition for access!
Monitor and talk, talk, talk
With pornography, violence, cyberbullying, self-harm, eating disorders, vaping, drugs and alcohol a ubiquitous part of the internet, social media, games and pop-up adverts, innocent searches online can lead to not-so-innocent results. Knowing how to use the parental controls offered by web browsers, service providers and devices is a must.
Parental controls are invaluable in assisting busy parents to protect, monitor and guide their kids online, filtering inappropriate content, managing screen time and device limits, and monitoring social media apps and games. Alerts and conversation tips provided by some of the more sophisticated parental controls provide the bridge for amazing conversations between parents and kids.
Most of all, keep checking in and checking up on your kids. Be alert to changes in the use of electronic devices, attempts to conceal online activity, withdrawn behaviour, angry outbursts, anxiety, and depression. Encourage children to tell a parent, guardian, or another trusted adult if anyone sends them inappropriate messages and pictures, both the cyberbullying as well as sexual variety. Make sure that they are empowered to report inappropriate or offensive posts and block people.
And our final tip is to remember that parenting requires a healthy balance of humour and fierce resolve.
You’ve GOT THIS!
The article was written for Discovery Health Mental Health Information Hub