Kathy, a parent who works two jobs and has three kids wants the best for her family. She decided to allow all three of her children (ages 7-14) to get smart devices. One day her seven-year-old daughter told Kathy that she discovered she was being stalked online. This caused a fear that affected the entire family and all technology was removed from the home. Was this the healthiest decision Kathy could have made? Any parent can understand the immediate reaction to want to protect kids from online badness but in the long run it’s not realistic to think one can live totally separated from digital technology.
The always-new digital technologies are no longer mere inventions; rather, they’ve made possible a new kind of networked society. In order to empower both parents and kids to make healthy digital choices, it’s essential for adults to learn and then teach their kids critical thinking skills and media literacy.
When your child becomes eligible for a driver’s license, do you just hand him or her the car keys and say, “enjoy?” I think not! Things need to happen first. The child needs to learn the rules of the road and the basic mechanics of the car like how to start the engine and how to get it to move. The same is true when it comes to digital technology. Kids need to understand the consequences of their online choices and follow the family rules for using various devices.
But what are the family rules and how to do you go about implementing them? When you hand your child a digital device, you put in their hands something for which they need to be responsible, not just for the physical device, but for the words, images, expressions, and attitudes they share (and are shared with them by others) with said device.
Why not make a family plan for how you will use digital technology in your home?
I’m not talking about your mobile carrier contract. Rather, work together as a family to create a plan for how your family will connect with the digital world. This way, together, the entire family (including the adults) becomes empowered to be accountable to one another regarding the way they use digital media. Having a plan also makes it much easier to make healthy media choices.
Here’s what you do in four easy steps:
- Be Intentional- Teach your child to bookmark their favorite sites. This decreases the possibility of your child stumbling onto inappropriate content. Also, cyberbullying continues to be a growing issue. Kids don’t always understand the consequences of their online actions and how they affect others and can sometimes be hurtful. Teach your children how to choose their words carefully. Have a chat about how communicating online is different than talking face-to-face. Talk about ways of being kind online by choosing to compliment others and how to avoid hurtful words/actions. It’s also important to discuss about how chatting or flirting online with strangers is risky. Encourage them to let you know immediately if a situation online starts to feel uncomfortable. Also reassure them that they will not get in trouble for telling you.
- Be Informed-As parents, you need to be aware of how the various social media apps work so that you can be smart in the way you manage the settings for your own accounts but especially for those of your children. Once you get familiar with an app, work with your kids to determine the best and safest settings to use. Usually, the impulse to share personal information and current location is driven by a desire for attention. Almost all the social media sites have GPS and GO tagging making it way too easy for others to see where you or your children are at any given moment. The proper settings are essential.
- Be an Example-There’s no question that kids learn from watching adults. Make sure you model responsibility in your own use of technology so that when your kids watch you, they are learning the proper way to use digital media. Remember, this plan is for you as much as it is for them.
- Make Clear Rules-Find out what guidelines are offered on various social media sites. These can aid you in making decisions about what you will and will not allow your kids to access. Then, talk about and decide, together with the kids, on your own family guidelines in light of your values and beliefs. Make sure your rules are clear and that the kids understand both them and the consequences for breaking them.
Digital technologies allow us to have unrestricted access to information, entertainment and people. This presents both opportunities and challenges for families. You can gain knowledge and experience online but being online can also lead to accessing inappropriate content.
Just as kids learn to be responsible drivers, they need to learn how to live in our digital world responsibly. Developing a family plan for digital media will help everyone be more aware of the technology you use and how you use it.
Here is a sample Media Pledge for yourself and one you can do together as a family. What strategies will you employ so as to help you grow in media mindfulness?
To learn more about media literacy, social media and parenting, and to get some tips for using digital technology in the family, click on the links below.
Common Sense Media: How do deal with scary new about social media
Common Sense Media: media literacy
Pauline Center for Media Studies: Media Mindfulness strategy