I remember going to the park for the first time with my oldest daughter. I was so excited about our first social outing. I imagined spending most of the afternoon at the park while she played on the slide and made new friends. All of this ended, when she decided to pick up a pile and bark and throw it at another child. How quickly my excitement turned to mortification. Instead of banning the park, we tried it again. On the way to the park, we talked about taking turns on the slide and asking a child to play. For a while, I hovered around ready to step in and help her make the right decisions. Slowly, my hovering transitioned to casually observing her from the park bench. Today, she walks on her own to the local park with friends.
Parents need to approach “the online playground” in the same way. We need to start talking to children about how to behave online from a young age. As soon as they can hold a device, we sit beside them teaching them how the online world works. As they grow, we create age appropriate rules that protect them, while allowing them opportunities to explore. Technology is a powerful tool. If used correctly offers amazing benefits for our kids.
Parents can start by integrating digital parenting into the lessons they are already teaching. Behavior online and behavior offline is the same. For example, rules for communication do not change with 140 characters. Kids should be respectful, kind and thoughtful in all their correspondence. These attributes are even more important in the digital realm. In the absence of tone and expression, kid must be extra careful and thoughtful in their choice of words.
By including the digital world in their parenting, parents can get ahead of their child’s internet use. This focus is less about reacting to each new device, app or headline. Instead, this approach allows parents to create a strong foundation and build from it. They key to getting ahead is talking early and often about expectations for online behavior. These talks should be about more than the big threats, like online predators or cyberbullying. These talks focus on the commonplace interactions kids encounter every day online.
It is not only talking. Kids need their parents to participate actively online. It is not enough to friend or follow a child. By joining and participating in the social network, parents will know how to guide their child before they make a mistake. They will know how the privacy settings work, understand the limitations of these settings, see how to find friends and the type of content kids will see while poking around online. By being in these spaces, parents can create age appropriate rules that make sense and that can be enforced.
Ultimately, it is about showing kids how to incorporate technology in a healthy and positive way in their lives. We need to teach our kids how to:
Protect their personal information.
Manage their digital profiles.
Achieve digital balance in their lives.
Build healthy relationships online.
Stay safe and secure.
It is time to start talking digital! To help parents start the conversation, I have gathered together tips and scripts for parents in my book Talking Digital. Whether your child is in preschool or high school, parents will find the information they need to start their digital talk.
Here is more information on raising kids in a digital world.
- A Platform for Good’s Digital Citizenship Flashcards
- How to be a Good Digital Parent
- Raising Responsible Digital Citizens