In today’s modern world of digital dominance, kids begin using computers/tablets and smart phones before they can walk. Let’s face it, our kids are online.
Let’s face it, our kids online are better at surfing the net than our parents. They may even be better than us! I know this first hand, as even with my expertise in the field, when it came to my latest teaching SnapChat to my DMXSocial Class, I brought in the true expert – My 13 year old son! The class loved him. Check out this goofy image of us demonstrating snapchat filter face swap!
In my household, it is normal to hear requests to Google information. This is how we learned that the longest word in the English dictionary is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis , a lung disease that is otherwise known as silicosis. We actually have not had cable for a very long time, the internet and YouTube long ago took over.
YouTube is searched more often for instructions than anything else. I will never forget the day, my son was 7 years old at the time and he came downstairs and proclaimed, Mom, I was having trouble sleeping, so I searched on YouTube how to sleep and watched a video. Apparently the video told him to have a soothing bath, drink warm milk, stop any stimulus like tv, computers, or internet an hour before, and read. Hmmmm, I think I may have mentioned the same things many times before, but somehow coming from YouTube it had more authority!
With digital technology being the norm within our homes, how can we keep our children safe on line? When my children were 8 and 11 years old, I began dealing with the realities of online technology, and developed some rules in our home. I will share my experiences and rules here:
1. The number one rule in our household is that if you don’t know someone in person, you can not be friends with them online.
This rule came about as my eldest son, then age 9, began playing online games. Some of the games had chat rooms, and encouraged players to gather up “teams” (like Clash of Clans). I quickly realized that these chat rooms were full of people looking to connect online, most were likely not kids, and many were bullies. The language was more than a little appalling… More shocking, I realized that my son was actively recruiting them to be on his team! We sat down together and deleted any person who was not a real life friend. In explaining to my son the rationale of why he could not be friends with people online he did not know I gave him the example, you wouldn’t go walking down the street loudly exclaiming to everyone who passed by “please be my friend!” He giggled, and although he did not like having to give up so many online friends, he understood the safety implications of not talking to strangers.
2. Wifi access has been restricted to the hours of 5-8pm during the week.
This one is simple, anyone online after 8pm is not likely a child.
3. Mom has access to every online password and will randomly check all online activity.
My kids know, if they want the privilege of being able to use the internet, they will have to be ok with me checking their activity. I am honestly shocked when I hear parents of 10 year olds say they would not dare check their child’s online accounts, because they feel it is breaching their privacy. They are kids, we need to keep them safe! They are learning how to interact online, and need our guidance. Also, my children do not know the passwords to the app stores. If they want to down load something they need to ask permission first, and I check it out to ensure it is appropriate.
4. Social media is a reality and needs to be learned;
Growing up with a Mom who is in digital marketing, my kids have been highly exposed to social media, and are more than just a little curious, indeed, my kids are online. My children have been given the privilege of a Skype account and email. They also have Instagram and more recently Snapchat. This is under the rules listed above. I am teaching my children how to use these channels appropriately. Having their own accounts makes my life easier as well. It has stopped my eldest old son from asking if he can use my phone to take “Selfies” with Instagram, which would automatically post to my Facebook account (I think my friends are happy to no longer being annoyed with getting spammed by my son’s selfies!). The first step was to allow my children to open up their own accounts with guidance to ensure their activity is safe. While we were doing this activity together, I regularly had conversations with my sons about the fact that nothing on the internet is every guaranteed to be private, so everything posted needs to be appropriate. I also have the conversation with them that once something is posted to the internet, it can’t be taken back. Again, reminding them to be courteous, polite and appropriate online.
The other reality of kids online is dealing with aspect of bullying! It doesn’t just happen at school. I think the fact that kids feel that they can hide behind a computer screen sometimes even makes the bullying more intense. One of my son’s dealt with an issue of being called some pretty nasty names, and then unfollowed, which made him quite upset. Once we talked about the issue and cyber bullying, he was able to talk it through with his peers and resolve it. The relative ease of accessing social media online makes peer interactions more difficult to monitor, making the importance of communicating with our children all the more important!
As with every life lesson, learning how to use the internet appropriately will give my children the advantage later on in life. As with everything about being a parent, our jobs is to make sure our children are educated and safe!