As a parent, it can be scary to see your kids continue to grow and with each passing year feel your grip loosening. Thinking of kids faring in the real world is no sweet dream, but it’s bound to happen sooner or later. You can’t keep your kids sheltered forever.
The internet is the first point of contact most kids will have with the real world in a relatively unsupervised context. Schools monitor the sites they visit, and many families keep a public computer in the house where everyone can view some websites. By the time kids get their first laptops or mobile devices, they’ve already found ways to connect with friends online and find music and videos you have probably never even heard of.
This time provides a great opportunity to talk to kids about how they use the Internet, how that use can affect their lives moving forward and offer some tips to help them browse safely.
Offer Safety Tips
It’s quite common for kids to share passwords with their friends to display trust, similar to the way best friends used to share private journals, or pass notes. This behavior may seem harmless, but it has many unintended consequences. What if those two friends stop hanging out and have problems with each other? What if one friend decides to exact some kind of vengeance over the other? It might not happen, but what if it did and how would that affect your child’s future?
As a middle ground, suggest that there may be some accounts worth keeping private. Kids with email addresses, for instance, will want to keep that information secret. Kids sharing passwords for a game may not be as much of an issue, as long as that game doesn’t charge for usage.
It’s not enough to simply say “thirty minutes of computer time then you’re done.” There are so many screens that kids have access to, and it’s crucial for parents to keep them interested and engaged with the ‘real world’. Kids who are limited on their use of screens tend to have higher attention spans, live healthier lifestyles and are more empathetic to other children and adults they meet.
Download an application like OurPact, which helps parents allocate their children’s Internet time and provide blocking remotely. We’ve all been in the classic parenting standoff, where a child swears they will turn off their device in just a minute, with no real intention to do so. OurPact lets you take action without having to physically take away the laptop or the phone, and it’s incredibly easy to download, use and integrate into life, to boot!
In many ways, computers have supplanted a child’s social life. When we were kids, we used to ride our bikes to a destination and meet for a ball game or a few hours at the playground. Those activities still happen, but it’s quite common for kids to meet instead for a game or to ‘hang out’ online. Chat programs are especially popular because they offer a degree of privacy and intimacy.
Try to understand that your kids are struggling too. Every time you feel frustrated about the amount of time they spend “glued to the phone,” instead see if you can help your kids find ways to integrate the online social life they’ve built with the real world, or develop new hobbies separate from their devices. Ask them if there is a particular park or museum they are interested in going to, and then offer to take them and some friends there!
Technology is changing rapidly, and no one is able to grasp that faster than our children. They are on the cutting edge of everything, bored with all of it before we ever hear about it. You can only do so much and the Web represents so many potential threats its almost mind boggling to think about.
Breathe and try to remember that your kids are still new to this stuff too. They don’t understand how photos can affect them, how friendships come and go. There is a lot to learn for the both of you, so start “the talk” now and keep it going as they age.