Have you noticed how a three-year-old child seems to instinctively know what to do with a smartphone or tablet? Children these days appear to be born with innate digital prowess. Technology and the online world have become a very huge part of their lives – how they learn, play and socialize.
Just as we put in a lot of effort in preparing our children for living and keeping safe in the real world, there is a lot of wisdom in starting early to prepare them for life in the digital world – what “communities” to visit or “camp” at, who they hang out with, what information to give and not give, how to protect themselves from bullies and other potential danger, how to avoid getting into trouble with the law…
Here are a few tips and tools to help:
- Learn and keep learning – The more you practice, ask questions and eat a few lot of humble pies, the better and more comfortable you’ll become. Don’t let the “eye rolling” and “shaming” from your children and others deter you. Stay focused on your goal, which is to be a part of your child’s online life by applying your parenting skills and family values in a digital age.
- Establish & Enforce Ground Rules – Once the rules have been set based on the age and maturity of your child, enforce them. A number of parents have fallen prey to the temptation of turning a blind eye when their children break the rule of exceeding the screen time set because of the extra peace and quiet it buys them. As tempting as it may be, try and stick with the plan and instill that discipline. Let your kids know that they risk loosing online privileges in addition to any other sanction you may want to impose for breaking the rules.
- Set Boundaries – To keep your children from stumbling on pornography or other inappropriate material, use Internet Filters and other software programs to set boundaries. Popular programs include: Net Nanny, Pure Sight, K9 Web Protection and Covenant Eyes.
- Talk to them about Footprints – Educate your child on what a digital footprint is. Let him or her know that in the online world, real privacy is a myth and that every email, text or instant message leaves a digital footprint. They need to understand that inappropriate messages or images could be used against them in the future by school authorities, prospective employers or extortionists.
- Guide them on how to avoid Potential Danger and trouble spots – The purpose is not to scare them but to ensure they take necessary precautions and avoid getting into trouble. Emphasize the need for them to be wary of strangers; mindful of the information they give out; avoid questionnaires, free giveaways and contests that ask them for too much personal information; watch out for cyber bullies; refuse to participate in digital attacks and avoid plagiarism in their school assignments.
- Connect with your older teen or young adult child online, primarily because you want to be a part of their digital world and not because you want to stalk them. When he or she lets you into their digital space either by accepting you as their friend on Facebook or allowing you follow them on social media, consider it a privilege and do what you must to keep that channel of communication open. Look for tactful and unobtrusive ways to guide and correct. Remember that at this stage of their lives, what most of them want is independence and you don’t want to get “shut out” for good. Don’t insist on being on all their social media platforms, respect their space. Don’t become obsessed with monitoring their every move. Resist the urge to be judgmental and please don’t embarrass them in front of their online friends by posting “cute” comments on their walls.
Enough said for now. The aim is not to make you a tech guru or 100% digital parenting compliant. It’s simply to encourage you to know the “new” world in which your children live in, so that you can provide them with the parental guidance, care and protection they need (whether they think so or not).