A generation ago, “parenting” wasn’t even a word. (Back then, people simply “raised” kids, like crops or livestock.)
“Digital parenting” is newer still. In fact, it’s a term that’s only just beginning to creep into our vocabulary. Most of us know that it involves somehow nurturing our kids around their use of technology. But exactly how we are meant to do that remains a bit fuzzy.
And that’s not surprising. Most of us grew up in a completely different technological age, without social media, multi-player games, online porn, video streaming, cyberbullying or sexting. Some of us even remember the good ol’ days of dial-up.
Back then, digital parenting meant getting the kids off the phone so you could send an email. In today’s world, our kids are connected 24/7 - even in the classroom (especially in the classroom!) - so much so that the distinction between online and offline is less and less meaningful.
Although digital parenting is still an evolving concept, based on a growing database of evidence and observation, some basic guidelines are starting to emerge. Here are seven of the most important:
1- Talk with your kids.
This one comes first, because all the evidence tells us that it is the single most important thing you can do to keep your kids happy, healthy and balanced online. Ongoing, open-ended conversations about what your kids (and their peers) are doing online are just as important today as keeping current with their activities offline.
You can discuss dangers and risks with them - in fact you should. But don’t get the idea that negativity should dominate these conversations. Be sure you’re in touch with the positives too: the fun and engaging side their online world. And be sure to listen twice as much as you speak. You’ll be amazed how much you’ll learn.
2- Educate yourself.
It’s not good enough to throw your hands up and declare you don’t like technology and have no interest in it. Maybe you really don’t understand how Snapchat works, or why anybody would want to sext, or what on earth the appeal of Fortnite is. That’s understandable. It’s not your world. But it is the world your children inhabit - this is the water they swim in. You owe to them to learn about that world.
Make it a habit to seek out news about online trends and the latest games and apps. (You might want to start with the Family Zone blog or our Facebook page.) Talk to other parents and your kids’ teachers. Ask your own children for help and advice. Sit alongside them as they play a game or interact on social media.
3- Use parental controls.
Well, of course we’d say that. We’re Family Zone! But seriously every cyber expert in the world makes this recommendation, and they do it for a very good reason. Allowing your kids to go free-range on the internet simply isn’t responsible parenting.
As Family Zone cyber expert Brett Lee says, “Of course I trust my child. I just don’t trust the 3 billion other people who are online with him.” From the first moment you put a device in their hands, you should have strong controls in place to block inappropriate material and help you manage their screen-time.
4- Set ground rules and enforce consequences. The experts all agree: a digital contract (verbal or, even better, in writing) is essential to good digital parenting. You need to be absolutely clear about what is and isn’t expected with respect to time online, passwords, bedtimes, downloads, in-app purchases, streaming … Yes, the list really does go on and on! (For a sample contract prepared by Family Zone cyber expert and clinical psychologist Jordan Foster of ySafe, click here.)
5- Friend and follow, but don’t stalk. When it comes to parents interacting with their kids on social media, there are rules. And one of them is restraint. If you use the access your child has granted you to spy on them - or heaven forbid to publicly nag or lecture them - it’s all over. You’ve betrayed a trust, and an implicit bargain. After all, friends don’t stalk, nag or lecture friends.
Friends don’t stalk, nag or lecture friends."
6- Explore, share and celebrate. Look for, and join in, the positives of your child’s online world. Maybe she’s created something incredible in Minecraft, or posted a stunning photo on Instagram. Maybe she’s reached a new level in a challenging game, or figured out some cool searching tricks on Google. Encourage your child to share these experiences. Be sure to let her know how proud you are and how exciting it is to see her online progress.
7- Be a good digital role model. Do you check your emails at the dinner table? Glance at the odd text while driving? Respond to notifications while your child is trying to speak to you? We’ve all been there from time to time. But the truth is, if your own device use is out of control, you are modelling behaviour your child will almost certainly emulate. When it comes to digital parenting, be the change you want to see.
Adapted from The Family Online Safety Institute.