Like many parents, I take a lot of joy in teaching my kids the little things. Getting dressed by themselves. Tying their own shoes. Learning how to ask for help, but only when they need it. Everything from chewing with your mouth closed to tying a tie. It’s fun, and it’s good parenting, but it’s also kind of easy in the grand scheme of things. The little things everyone needs to know, but need someone to teach them.
But their world is digital now. How do you teach a kid to deal with online bullies? Or to limit their time on social media when that’s where all their friends are? How do you teach your child to live in a digital world that you didn’t exactly grow up in?
Why Teach Kids Skills To Deal With Our Digital World?
Well, the first thing to do is admit that you can’t control everything. A lot of life is lived online now, especially in the age of the Covid-19 pandemic. And while we are now taking the first steps back toward normalcy, ‘normalcy’ will certainly still involve a lot of screens and social media. Getting your kids ready for the world doesn’t mean pretending the internet doesn’t exist. It means giving them the skills to handle the challenges it brings.
Part of it is teaching some basic skills, and instilling emotional resources. It’s the whole ‘teach a man to fish’ thing, but for dealing with the internet. A good practice is to determine just how much you and your kids actually need the internet. Besides virtual classroom learning, how much time do they spend on the internet? And, perhaps more importantly, does your child have a healthy relationship with social media?
Understanding The Risks Involved In Using The Internet
Do they use the internet as a source of connection and information, or is their use more obsessive, endlessly scrolling, desperate to keep up with every little happening? This is a very important distinction. It may require both parental observation, and asking children directly. There will probably be a lot of eye-rolling, but the conversation is worth it. Instilling good digital habits, i.e. getting off their dang phone once in a while,
To put it simply, the difficulties of living in a digital world hit home for kids. It isn’t just rumormongers and bullies. A lot of the things that used to play out among just one grade level or single circle of friends can now spread anywhere. Mistakes play out much more publicly than they did in the past, so parents have a duty to make sure kids understand the risks of the internet. Don’t scare them, but don’t downplay the risks.
This is where the basic skills mentioned above can come in handy. Having the resource of self-reliance means kids will have an easier time with the more complicated stuff. A kid that knows they need to get at least some sleep and eat a few veggies with dinner will be more prepared, physically and psychologically, to deal with the new hardships of online bullies or social media gossip.
Keeping Information Personal And Managing Screen Time
Part of being a parent is letting your children take chances while developing smart habits.
- Don’t talk to strangers is good advice anywhere, online or in the real world.
- Don’t give out personal information. Good habit can apply to the habits of your whole family.
- Turn off all screens during and after dinner, and especially not before bed, as the blue light of screens can interfere with sleeping habits.
- Designate times when no one in the family is allowed to be on the internet. Be present when others need you, not staring at a screen.
- Most of all, show your kids that there’s more to the world than the internet. The mindset among young people right now (a mindset that’s strongly encouraged by social media companies) is that everything worth noticing or caring about is happening online.
It can be a hard to break out of this viewpoint. Taking the kids to a park, or out on a long drive to someplace new, can expand their horizons. Get them involved in hobbies or activities, from sports to painting to volunteering, that require their full attention, or force them to use the internet constructively. A teen endlessly scrolling down the social media rabbit hole isn’t healthy. Searching through YouTube for new cooking ideas or drawing techniques builds curiosity and resourcefulness.
Most of all, what I would say to worried parents is this: Calm down. Take a breath. This is hardly the first time a new technology has caused worry and consternation among parents. Previous decades saw endless debate about limiting ‘TV time’ and keeping kids away from the evils of video games. But never before has a new technology reached so deeply into families’ day-to-day lives. The fundamentals of good, caring parenting hasn’t really changed, and there are always new ways to learn and grow as a parent. And you’ll need to. Kids need all the help they can get.
About Jacob Baranski:
Jacob Baranski is a passionate entrepreneur and an ardent supporter of sustainable growth companies. A lifelong learner, he believes in investing in himself and fostering relationships on a foundation of mutual trust and respect. Jacob regularly practices yoga and meditation.
Articles already published by Jacob Baranski:
Jacob Baranski – Parenting During the Pandemic