As we read in Part 1, childhood has changed. Our kids live in a world that is more visible and transparent than ever. As parents the choices we made as kids were usually private and undocumented. However, our children are living in a society where everything is filmed, watched, documented and shared. In Part 2, we will discuss how our child's digital world can and will have a direct impact on their physical world and what parents can do.
“92% of children under two currently have some kind of digital dossier or footprint, with images of them posted online.”
“...children reach the age of “social media maturity” [have an adult social media account] at about age 11.”
Excerpts from AVG Digital Diaries
As both a parent and school administrator working with children I often wonder should we teach our children as though they have two lives, or one? This is a difficult question to wrestle with, but the society we live in is an augmented reality. Our digital world can and will have a direct impact on our physical world.
When talking to parents about how they handle their child's virtual behavior, I typically find one of 2 patterns: they restrict and try to control their child's behavior online, or parents ignore their kids behavior because they don't know what else to do. I would argue that each of these approaches can be equally dangerous. We must teach our students how to be appropriate digital citizens in the same way we teach them how to be contributing model citizens in every . day life. For some parents this can be a scary undertaking; however, it is a worthwhile undertaking and the payoff for your family and society is tremendous.
Why can't I Just Filter?
At the beginning of every school year the number one question that I receive usually sounds like, "How to I block or filter access to the internet for my child?" I usually find some irony in these types of questions because 9 times out of 10 their student is right next to them on the latest smartphone. Once you introduce the mobile phone you are giving your child a direct line out to the wild west that is the internet. Also as a parent you can have the most sophisticated filtering system in the world, but the reality is students are resourceful and clever and almost always find a way around. So what do we do?
We need to teach and model for our kids what good digital citizenship looks like. The number one influencer of kids is still you, the parent.
The best "filter" that we have as parents is our presence, both physically and digitally. If we as parents have conversations with our kids and model appropriate behavior for them, then they will be more likely to make good choices when it comes to online behavior.
Lets start with the physical environment of the home. Bad choices are made in private locations. Is allowing a 13 year old boy to use the internet behind closed doors a good idea? NO! All internet activity should be done in public places that can be visible to all. The kitchen table, the couch in the living room, a public desk in den are all good places to start. When kids go to their room, create a house rule that requires all laptops, cell phones, iPads etc. are left at a public charging table that is setup in the corner of the living room. This becomes really easy to monitor; if I know my child is in their room, then I should see their devices charging in the corner. What this does is it removes the temptation and opportunity for them to access inappropriate material and engage in risky behavior. Having them use digital devices in public areas sets up the opportunity for conversations and conversations lead to learning.
Be involved in what your children are doing. Ask them about what they are working on and take genuine interest. As the adult you can learn about and monitor the digital spaces that they are living in and the child can benefit from your wisdom if they are in a situation they don't know how to handle.
Be present in their digital space. Talk to them about what social networks networks they are on, and join them. As parents we need to teach and model good decision making. If our students are able to see us communicating and using digital tools, they are more likely to model our behavior. Use social media to love, empathize, and build up. Model that for your kid. Teach kids from a young age how to use social media responsibly.
It takes a lot of work to do all of the above, but ignoring your child's online presence and habits is equally damaging. Our guiding presence is important as they build their online profile. The lessons we teach them about online behaviors parallel the behaviors that we desire in the physical world. If children do not take control of their online presence then they are allowing other people to fill that space for them. We have to help them understand that they need to fill their online dossier with positive examples.
The current state of social networks can be down right depressing. Hate and slander in social networks are running rampant. We need to teach our kids to pause and think before posting. "How would this make me feel?", "Is what I am writing true?", "How will this impact the lives of others?" Social media is so powerful and can be used to make real connections. Like everything else, social media can be used for good and evil but we can not let the evil win. If we simply ban our children from the use of all social media we allow evil to win. We must teach our kids to build up and not tear down, support and not bully, learn and critically think not believe the outrageous.
As tech savvy as our kids are, they need our guidance with how to handle their online behavior. The bottom line is that our kids need positive mentors and role models. If we choose to filter, we will not be able to help them grow and mature in developing their online presence. To help our kids from losing control of their online dossier, we need to teach them to how fill their online presence with content and behavior that is positive and representative of how they want the world to view them.