There are many many things we can do to help keep our kids safe online and there are many ways we can help them get the most out the technology that is available and avoid the worst of the pitfalls. Last year alone I wrote over 30 posts on keeping kids safe and everywhere there are resources and information to help parents.
But there are also a few things we seem to be getting wrong when it comes to online safety and a positive online experience.
Obviously this is not the case with everyone and certainly there are many getting it more right than wrong. If we want to continually improve our understanding and hence our relevance to our kids however, then it may be helpful to look at some of the things we can avoid doing in order to improve our understanding of parenting in the digital world.
1) Parents are not always good role models
Some parents answer the phone at the dinner table. Some don’t really hear their kids when they talk as they are engrossed in reading an email. Some take more time photographing the meal instead of truly relishing each bite. Some text and drive. Some get distracted with games and social media and spend hours longer online than they intended. Many parents use technology for work and play and so the boundaries become easily blurred. We must look at what we are asking our kids to do, and check whether we are actually doing that ourselves.
2) Parents forget about much of the good stuff and focus on the bad
It seems that by nature people share more bad news than they do good. We are constantly hearing of the negative things that happen online and parents are often heard relaying these messages to their kids in order to keep them safe. Awareness is certainly a positive. But sometimes we forget all the great things kids are doing. Parents are constantly nagging kids to get off the technology. Telling kids they are addicted. Telling them they are turning in to zombies. They talk of bullying, predators, hacking, privacy, time wasting and trolls. All relevant and real risks. However sometimes we forget to mention all the positive interactions. The friendships rekindled. The mate who moved overseas but can still be skyped. The apps that helps teach our toddler their numbers. The device that allows our visually impaired child to increase the font of a school text book. Or listen to a novel online. We forget about some of the creative videos kids are making and the photos they are having fun editing. We forget about the music they are sharing with friends. The achievements they are sharing with relatives. The games that can be played between a tween and a parent or sibling. We need to keep abreast of the pitfalls faced by those hanging out online, but if we want kids to listen to our concerns, we also need them to know we recognise the many positive aspects of technology and the online world.
3) Parents make unrealistic rules
We sometimes make rules and place restrictions we often can’t follow through with or be sure are adhered to. Many times I have had parents tell me of how they have banned their kids from Facebook as they don’t want their kids on social media. They often fail to realise that their kids have a Kik account, a couple of different Instagram usernames and a snapchat following. Kids are very good at finding somewhere else to hangout or indeed create accounts parents don’t know exist. Telling a 15 year old child that they can’t use social networking or must limit their technology time to short periods during the day becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible. They have devices now many of them carry with them throughout the day, they can connect to free wifi at any cafe or McDonalds and they can upload and delete any app within seconds. Keeping communication open and honest with your kids gives them a far better chance of enjoying the benefits of social networking without falling prey to the dangers.
So in other words…..be sure to role model the behaviours you want to see in your kids, enjoy the positive aspects of technology with your family and be realistic in your rules and regulations in order to guide and support safe and responsible digital citizens.