As technology continues to advance at breakneck speed and our lives become more deeply immersed in the digital world, the challenges faced by parents in this uncharted territory can often feel overwhelming.
As a parent, worrying comes naturally. We hear so much about the dangers of the digital age: the predators, the pornography, the pedophiles, the gaming obsessions, the screen addictions and the cyber bullying.
We hear so much about the pitfalls and dangers of the connected world, we often overlook the vast possibilities digital technology can offer. Through digital devices, we now have countless amazing ways to connect and collaborate, raise awareness, create, learn and share. For young minds, this is a tremendous opportunity, and making full use of these tools can give them a big lead in today’s competitive world.
So how can we ensure that our kids can reap the very best of what technology has to offer, while at the same time protecting them from those negative elements?
Take an interest in current tech trends. Talk to your kids, make them feel secure enough to discuss difficult topics with you, and put yourself in the best position to remain relevant to your child’s world. Be the one they come to should things go wrong. Be the one they come to share the positive experiences they have online.
Make time to talk
One of the best ways we can help kids make the most of these opportunities is to stay relevant. But how do we do that in a world that seems to move faster every day? How do we keep up when our kids already seem to know so much?
We start by taking the time to get to know the kind of world they are growing up in. We try to understand the challenges they face. Because even if it seems they know a lot, kids do face challenges, and they will make mistakes. As parents, we need to ensure that those mistakes are ones they can recover from, and learn from.
Be their guide
Kids may well have a lot of knowledge when it comes to all things digital. But they are not necessarily as wise as their parents. Generally speaking, parents have a much deeper understanding of the world, the intricacies of different interactions, relationships and the complexities of human behaviour than kids do. Our kids are interacting and connecting with others in a world that is often beyond what they are developmentally and emotionally ready for. We need to help them cope with that.
Play and interact more
Sure, we all love the babysitting power of an iPad to ensure we can finish our coffee while its hot, or get dinner cooked without any interruptions. But if we also take the time to play with our kids and their devices, and take an interest in their digital playground, we can get a whole new perspective about what they enjoy. We get the bonus of staying current with interactive technology, as well as time to bond with them and enjoy some family time together. We also put ourselves in a much better position to set relevant boundaries and help kids understand those boundaries.
Listen to others, and listen to your child
If your friend’s child is playing a certain game, has a social media account or enjoys certain websites, then there is a good chance your child does too. Just as we would play at the park or hang out at the milk bar where our friends were when we were young, so too our kids will hang out where their mates are playing. So listen to those parents in the playground. Listen in to which popular apps and games are being talked about in the media. Listen to your child. Ask them what they like to do. Ask them about their concerns and their challenges. You may never keep up with every single app or site that your child visits, but if you have a good understanding of the ways kids are using technology and the sorts of things technology is capable of, then you are in a much better position to help them use it safely and smartly.
Be open and honest about what’s out there
While there are times we get nostalgic about the good old days when screens and social media were not such an integral part of our lives, we can’t afford to live in denial about the role technology is playing and will continue to play in the lives of our children. So rather than ignoring it completely or trying to avoid it, we need to be ready to have conversations that we may prefer not to have. We need to face the fact that the average age a child first sees pornography is about 11, and understand that this is a very real possibility for our children. So how do we prepare them for that? What conversations would we need to have if we suspect this has happened? Because we want to make sure that the education they are getting comes from us, and not from some random online source that we have no way of checking.
So seek out knowledge. Take an interest in current tech trends. Talk to your kids, make them feel secure enough to discuss difficult topics with you, and put yourself in the best position to remain relevant to your child’s world. Be the one they come to should things go wrong. Be the one they come to share the positive experiences they have online.
Our role as parents is not to shut down the internet accounts and take away the screens, but rather to ensure we are giving them the skills, the support, the understanding and the critical thinking skills to make the very best decisions every time they go online.