At every point in time, the goal of technology and the digital space, in general, is to improve and or increase productivity and wellbeing. For children, this translates to a time of fun and learning.
When intentions are clear, technology must never be a replacement for face-to-face (physical) interactions. Children must be able to have as much fun and learn offline as they can online.
Considering that the digital world attempts to mimic the physical world in design and application is a worthy note for parents- because it means that what is not allowed offline should not be allowed online. For instance, if you would not allow your children to spend unsupervised visits in the physical world. They should not be left unsupervised in the digital world. The goal here is not to monitor their every move but to mentor their every step. The difference therein is that mentorship guides when you are not around, while monitoring creates room for pretense especially when they can get away with it (when a parent is not around). Children do not want to feel choked, they want to feel understood and supported.
The digital space (social media for instance), is an amplifier of who we are in the physical world. We are not new or different people online. Contrary to popular belief, we do not create new identities online. The strength of your child’s identity (whom they know themselves to be, their values, and level of acceptance and or need for acceptance) offline is what they show and exhibit online. Do you know your child’s social skills?
Let’s begin this way- At what age should my child be exposed to the digital world? The interesting fact about this question is there isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Parents have the responsibility to decide the answer to this. Usually, the need ( a parent’s why) guarantees the when (and subsequently how).
Challenges arise when a parent does not have a productive and intentional reason (why) and still gives their child access to the digital space (any form of technology). For some, it is a form of escapism– In order not to spend time with the children (better put: so that the child does not disturb their seemingly more important activity), they buy gadgets (giving access to technology) to spend time with them instead. The problem with escapism is that you are satisfied that the child is not disturbing you, and so are not bothered enough to be aware of what is disturbing your child. Our attention cannot be greater than our intention.
As adults whose brains are more mature than that of children, we struggle with navigating the digital space, wanting to belong- doing the most just to be accepted- How much more kids (especially unsupervised)?
(Many adults are struggling with sensual themes and sexual content for instance- how much more kids)
From millennials down to the current generation of kids (Gen Z), we were born into the digital world, and many of us never got prepared and or trained in the etiquette of navigating this digital world. Many are just winging it- left to figure it out along the way as they gain societal and or self-clarity into the dos and don’ts of the digital spaces and the dangers and or blessings therein.
We live as a merge of the physical and digital world, as there is hardly anything we want to get done that does not require one form of technology or the other. For this reason, parents can no longer be ignorant of why (or why not) their children need to be exposed to technology. Gone are the days when society at first glance helped in raising a child- In the current dispensation, society no longer does that- classic examples are the themes and storylines in cartoons and kids’ movies.
If parents are saddled with the responsibility of deciding when their children are exposed to technology- How can they help ensure that their children are well protected and guided?
11 Things to Note!
- Create a value system at home: Where there is an overflowing reach of options to be made, our value must remain consistent. Conditions and situations change, but our values do not. Our values are the invisible “whispers” that help us make the right choices that align with who we are and “whose” we are. Values influence our behavior. When parents have family values that are shared, explained, and discussed with their children, it becomes easier for children to navigate the digital space (as they do physical spaces).
- Practice what you preach: It helps solidify your message. Don’t expect values from your children that you do not keep yourself. For instance, if you say no devices on the dining table, don’t bring yours to the table.
- Be compassionately strict: If your children cannot approach you, you cannot know what is going on in their lives. And no matter how strong children think they are- they need their superheroes (parents/guardians) to love, support, and rescue them. Children that can talk with their parents about all things tend to be safer online than those that do not.
- Have honest conversations: No sugar-coating. If you do not teach your children about sex education, for example, their peers and social media will. Guide your children on what is appropriate and what is not. Before they visit and or use any site/app, do your due diligence and be sure it is acceptable for them- Just because a site is popular is not enough justification for your child to be on it. If your child must join, it should be because it aligns with the values you are raising your children with.
- Educate yourself about the digital space. You cannot give what you do not have! Many parents did not grow up using technology and might not fully understand the usage therein. Invest in knowledge- hire a coach to train you, get books, attend conferences, and take courses. This is your child’s life- it cannot be left solely to chance, society, or their peers. Look at it this way- there should not be a difference in the type of investment you make in physical and digital knowledge of equipping your children.
- Communicate with your children: There is a difference between communicating with your children and just telling them what to do. The latter does not include the child’s perspective. Do not just tell them what to do and or not to do- also tell them why they should and or should not do it. When a child participates in the conversation, he/she will more readily understand the motivation behind such a decision. This is important for seasons of freedom and when they feel they can get away with things.
- Communicate with your children according to their level of understanding and in their language- not yours. Whatever you are telling them has to be relatable to them.
- Create their social media accounts together with them: When you have access to your child’s username and password, it is easier for you as a parent to know what is happening in their digital life. This will also allow you to help them set up (and explain) their privacy settings, parental control (for you), and how to flag inappropriate content and communication online.
- Create boundaries: When setting boundaries, as stated in point two, try not to focus only on the children, modeling boundaries for the whole family makes it more exciting and effective for the children.
- Set app timers to limit their screen time usage.
- Ensure apps are children-friendly, e.g., Youtube Kids, Netflix for kids.
- Have a good bedtime routine to encourage less screen time before bed and after they wake up.
- Plan No gadget hangouts: This helps them leverage moments, locations, and situations that do not require a form of technology to bond and build balance between their online and offline lives. Essentially, educate them about how to have healthy relationships with technology (but you must first have a healthy relationship with your tech).
- Join them to watch movies, play games, and do anything else that involves technology together- the same way you do with physical activities. There are lots of teachable moments you can explore from spending time bonding with them across the digital activities they love.
- It is important to set aside judgment about what teens might be doing on screens and instead host a non-judgemental conversation with them.
- Give your child my book, The Concise Guide to Online Etiquette: why netiquette is essential in the modem world, to help them ethically navigate their online world as they gain guidance in building kindness and empathy in the online world.