The rapid advances in technology have meant rapid changes to the way our children live their lives, and subsequently to the way we must parent. The changes to the way we get information, the way we are entertained and the way we interact and socialise are all being dictated by the technology that now permeates our every being.
As someone who has taken a passionate interest in how we parent with these changes, I believe there are 2 important elements we must get right in order to help our kids.
1. We absolutely must change with the technology and continually readjust and reevaluate our thinking and our teaching as the world advances and as our children grow
2. We must constantly strive to understand and see things from our children’s perspective.
If we refuse to learn, grow and change with the technology, then we become irrelevant to our kids. Becoming irrelevant to our kids means they do not confide in us when things go wrong. They set up power games to beat our systems and they relish the control that the technology gives them.
My rules for my own family have changed as the technology has spread its influence. I have come to realise that there is a lot I cannot protect my kids from anymore. I can help them process things they have seen, I can help them deal with negative experiences, I can implement strategies to protect them for longer and I can help them play a positive role in any given situation, but I cannot ever be sure that my ideals for their experiences are being met.
When I started out parenting I thought I would have a good handle on everything they did. I thought I would set up safe filters, allow minimal access to social networking sites and never allow violent video games. Needless to say much of that has changed. Not because I am soft or cannot be bothered. But because I have changed in my understanding of this world. I still talk, connect, guide, teach and support, but my rules today are very different than they were even 2 years ago.
My older kids went from Leapstar, to plug n play games, to Nintendo DS, to an xbox, an ipod touch and now to a phone. My middle child skipped the first few and went straight to a Nintendo DS and the 4 year old will likely go straight to an iPod touch. The 2 year old will probably be calling me form his cot on his new iphone 5s. (just kidding) But he will probably have a device when he heads off for his first day of school.
So the way we have had to approach the technology has had to change for all of them. When it comes to the rules, the boundaries, the dangers, the capabilities and the potential of the technology, it is all vastly different even for my 10 year old today than it was for my 13 year old 3 years ago.
Every time I give a presentation on Parenting with Technology it changes. The basic principals stay the same but the rules, the examples and the advice can all change. Already it is evident that much of the information we have heard at cyber safety talks and read in internet safety pamphlets in recent years is outdated and no longer relevant.
“Just keep the computer in a central part of the house and you will stop your kids from seeing bad things”. Devices are now portable, kids as young as 5 are getting compulsory internet enabled devices and kids will always hang out at other kids houses or stop by McDonalds for some free wifi. Put your own safety filters and blocks in place, but do not presume the only time your kids are seeing stuff online is when you are around.
“Check the search history of your kids browser so you know what they have been looking at”. Kids learnt a long time ago how to delete a history.
“Dont let your kids open a Facebook account”. Kids will find another app or site to connect with people that you haven’t cottoned on to yet. In fact many are moving away from Facebook as that is where all the grown ups hang out. Teach them how to behave online wherever they are going to play.
“Dont go on social networking sites. Bad stuff happens on there and people get bullied” . Of course they do. Teach them kindness, empathy and strategies to deal with it should it happen.
“Only stick to the sites the cyber safety expert told you were safe”. A 13, 14 or 15 year old will hang where his mates are hanging. You would not go to the park where no friends were playing and our children wont either.
We cannot say “you are not even talking about anything. It is just hiya, hows it hangin, wtf, whatcha up to?” Isn’t that the same stuff they’d be saying if they did meet up at a park?
If we do not attempt to understand their world from their perspective, we risk being unheard as a teacher and neglected as a support.
Whilst we may roll our eyes at their online banter, we may squirm at their violent video games and we may curse the wasted hours spent tapping, texting and swiping, we must understand this is their world. It is the only one any of them have known.
If we want to have any chance at getting them through relatively unscathed, then we need to stop fighting it, accept what it is and what they are doing. We must continue to get the appropriate knowledge to help us remain relevant to our kids and to continue to be the greatest influence on how they live their lives. Both online and off.