How do we enforce rules around technology and the online world when so much of what they do we cannot see?
I get this question a lot. Here’s what I think.
Different family values determine the importance families place on certain rules and boundaries that in turn become part of our daily lives. We have lots of these rules. Some are common to many families and some can vary depending on circumstance, culture, beliefs, ideals, family dynamics, age of children etc
Some families value healthy or clean eating and so they have a rules about no soft drink at kids parties or preservatives in their foods. Some value religion, so it is a requirement that they all go to church together every week. Almost all families value safety and protection for their children, so it is imperative that young children hold an adults hand every time they cross a road.
These are rules that are usually instilled early and are what I call ‘no brainers’. They are just what your family does and are part of your life. So the earlier you start, the greater chance you have of these becoming habits that become behaviours that just become what you do.
So we have no real problems enforcing these in real life but I often get parents asking for help enforcing rules around technology or the online world. There seems to be a feeling that parents cannot have the same control over what their kids do when it comes to hanging out in cyberspace. At my last talk I was asked “How can I enforce the rules about internet use and technology? It is all very well to give rules but how do we enforce them?”
The answer? How do you enforce the other rules in your house?
If your child asked for cola for breakfast what would you say? What if they kicked and screamed and pleaded to have a donut upon awakening? What would you say if your 8 year old wanted to watch an R rated movie? Or your 2 year old didn’t want to hold your hand to cross a road? These rules help create the very fabric of our daily lives, and ultimately keep our families running relatively smoothly and our children safe and well. Sure, you may have to discipline at times to make sure they follow the rules and there may certainly be times when there are consequences when they don’t follow them. But. As they grow, these become part of who they are, the values and beliefs begin to dictate their behaviours and they make similar choices as they grow.
I do agree it is much harder to enforce some rules when it comes to technology however as kids spend so much time doing things we don’t see and we cannot always keep up with everywhere they visit online. The online world is more exaggerated and exposed and there are certainly behaviours and rules that may seem isolated to that world. But at the end of the day it comes back to giving them the skills to make good choices wherever they find themselves.
So start early with your rules and boundaries and be confident that those values that you teach every day in the real world, will translate to appropriate behaviours online and that you can demand the same sorts of respect for rules in both worlds. Because remember for our kids this is the only world they have known, and to them it is all one world.