Face it; your kids just aren’t that into you. Of course they love you, but you’re not nearly as exciting as an app and can’t possibly meet their need for attention quite like social media can. Today’s kids learn, communicate, and socialize online. They’re quite good at the technical aspects of digital life which can make it feel like you’ve got your own live-in IT specialist. But most kids aren’t really developmentally mature enough to deal with the emotional aspects of growing up in a digital world. That’s why it’s so important that you practice these strategies to protect your kids and help them manage their lives online.
The biggest challenge with kids and technology is that kids often lack the comprehension, judgment, foresight, and emotional competence needed to use digital devices and apps. Mainly because so much of the content they are watching, reading, playing, and absorbing is adult in nature. Their immaturity and naivety shows up in the form of racking up cell phone charges, telling strangers private information, carelessly posting intimate photos, bullying, and coercion into unsafe behavior.
“Some dismiss such behavior as kids being stupid. I say it’s kids being kids. Adults are the ones who are being stupid when they expect kids to act like adults.”
Kids are also trying to self-identify and figure out “who they are”. One of the ways they do this is by going online and seeking out connections with peers. And while school campuses continue to be a great place for kids to meet, the digital world extends their reach across the globe. It also gives them an immediate sense of “approval” which can leave them craving more. The online world can also give kids (and adults!) a false sense of anonymity, like they are saying and doing things behind an invisible wall of protection. It’s what allows people to detach themselves from their behavior. It’s also what makes it difficult for kids to hold themselves accountable.
That’s where you come in. I’m going to give you some practical strategies for helping your school-aged child protect their identity, self-esteem, and privacy while online.
- Talk with your child and start early. If you think they’re old enough to be online, then they’re old enough to have the discussion. Don’t wait for them to initiate. Use stories from the news or friends to get the conversation going.
- Set rules and expectations. Setting clear boundaries should give your child examples of acceptable and unacceptable behavior while giving appropriate consequences will help you to manage and modify their behavior. Involve them by asking them to create realistic rules. This will encourage accountability and make the process more democratic.
- Periodically review their text and instant messaging. Make it a habit to regularly review their computer history to see which destinations they are visiting. Explain that this is not about trust vs. mistrust, but that it is the best way for you to determine that they are acting responsible and respectful of your rules.
- Ask them if they know every single one of their Facebook friends. This is especially important for younger teens. Explain the risk of “friending” people they don’t know.
- Keep the desktop computer in a common area of the home so that you are better able to monitor usage.
- Set times of restricted use. For example, all cellphone and digital electronics go in your room or office on the charger by 10 p.m. every night.
- Use parental controls. Remember, it is your responsibility to monitor and set limitations. I am giving you my permission to get in their business. Use blocks to block certain websites or special browsers that filter out inappropriate sites. Don’t let your child guilt you and most certainly don’t listen to other moms who try to make themselves feel better by judging you.
It goes without saying that this will require your patience. After all, most of your time parenting is in “parrot mode” where you constantly repeat yourself. Accept that you will have to remind your kids of the rules and check their activity on a regular basis. You can consider easing up on the monitoring once they’ve proven they are trustworthy and make good decisions. Don’t forget to listen. It’s amazing what you can learn about your child when you do this. Believe it or not, listening encourages them to actually share more. And it’s a great way to confirm that, despite their delusional belief that they know everything, they still really do need you.
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