June 1, 2022
Today is Global Parents Day and we want to make the job of parenting in the age of technology a little easier for you. Our lead online safety and digital wellness expert Teodora Pavkovic, shares her five fundamental tips for helping parents raise healthy kids in the digital age.
An overwhelming majority of parents today believe that parenting is harder to do now than it was 20 years ago, and many of them find technology to be the main reason behind this struggle.
While virtually all parents own their own smartphones and social media accounts, none of them have gone through the experience of growing up immersed in these technologies, and they find themselves raising digital natives whose language they don’t speak. Today, parents need to understand how to be digital mentors.
Questions abound when it comes to navigating this novel experience. In fact, if you begin typing “should i give my child a…” on Google, you’ll likely find that two of the top four autocomplete searches have to do with giving children a device (a phone or an iPad).
So how can parents even begin to orient themselves around their children’s technology use, and the core question of what kind of parent they want to be when it comes to their child’s digital habits?
Suggesting that this issue can be addressed and resolved with one single blog post would do a great disservice to the struggle some parents face on a daily basis; therefore, the following five guideposts are meant to help you at least begin to think about this issue.
They will also help you accomplish the most important step in helping children navigate the online world in a safe and healthy way - educating yourself first.
Both the quantity and quality of technology use are important. If you think about digital consumption as food, there is a certain balance of nutrients and "junk" food that you are trying to establish with your child—aim to do the same with how they spend their time online.
A related aspect is the why behind the use. If you have younger children in particular, I invite you to consider how you regulate their access to technology. Is screen time given as a treat, a pacifier, or is it sometimes withheld as a form of punishment? Children’s brains are hyper-malleable and they form connections quickly, and the rules we establish early on become embedded and can be hard to change when they are older.
There is no doubt that you already have a set of expectations for your child regarding how you would like them to show up as a friend, student, soon-to-be-adult, and member of your family. Explore how these ‘offline’ expectations can guide your boundaries around behavior online.
I have said this to many parents before, but what I have found time and again is that the parents who feel confident and in complete ownership of their views and values are the ones who are most able to tolerate their children’s occasional anger and protests in the face of setting boundaries. And those protests will happen.
But if you make the topic of online safety and digital wellness a prominent part of your regular conversations at home, your children will be clearer on what you expect and why you expect it.
Thinking about how technology is designed and why it’s designed that way might seem like something only software engineers should be interested in, but in today’s world where one of the most complex pieces of technology ever created sits in over 80% of the world’s pockets, we all need to be aware of at least the basic elements of tech design. And our children do too.
Teaching them that social media and gaming platforms have been designed to maximize (and monetize) the time, attention and information they hand over is the first step to raising responsible digital citizens. It is absolutely never too early to help children understand the basic elements of the digital economy—it is our present, and their future.
There is plenty of research and anecdotal evidence showing us that in homes where conversations around online safety, responsible online behavior and digital wellness are more frequent, children report more positive (and safer) online experiences.
Technology doesn’t have to be the thing that tears our generations asunder—it can bring parents and their children closer together, only if we let it. Find out what your children’s favorite games and apps are, and join them there.
For one—it will just be plain fun. Even more importantly, children need to know that not only is a responsible adult present to supervise them in the virtual world, but also to protect and advocate for them if and when necessary. And it’s really not about monitoring, but mentoring them.
Children learn a huge amount about the outside world through observing, and through absorbing the multitude of non-verbal cues we use to communicate with each other every minute.
In fact, as much as 93% of our communication is non-verbal. So, when it comes to the kinds of tech habits and online behaviors you would like to see your children exhibit, "show" is a much more effective learning tool than "tell."
The most powerful way to pass these on to your kids is to embody them yourself; if ‘no phones at the dinner table’ is a rule in your home, then you’ll need to take the lead on modeling it. No phones in the bedroom? Same rule applies. No sharing of family members’ photos without asking for permission first? You got it.
This is particularly important if you have teens at home because, as you already know, they have a special intolerance for those "how come you get to do it and I don’t?!" scenarios.
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