What are some of the fundamental principles our kids need to really thrive online? Those beliefs and values and parenting practices that don’t even require a whole lot of knowledge about what it means to grow up in a digital world? Because all too often we see the whole world of cybersafety and digital wellbeing taught from a negative standpoint. We become engulfed in guilt when we feel like we are not meeting the lofty expectations of an idyllic analogue childhood. We have felt bad when we gave in and handed and ipad to the tired, hungry traveller or shopper in order to pacify, gets some peace or and get in a couple more chores. We feel overwhelmed that we can’t keep up with every social media app or teenage acronym or emoji meaning and so we chase our tails trying to maintain some control.
We hear a lot about what not to do when it comes to our kids use of technology and the online world.
Don’t post pictures, don’t use it too much, don’t talk to strangers, don’t share too much information, don’t play games too long, don’t believe everything you read, don’t post pictures without permission, don’t ruin your digital footprint.
All very valid warnings in a world that offers many pitfalls and challenges to young people’s ability to thrive online.
But let’s change the framework a little. If we want kids to thrive in this world, let’s try and shift our mindset to something a little more positive. To give them the skills to proactively face the challenges of the modern world rather than asking them to turn everything off, shut down their behaviours, walk away and instinctively know how to react in a instant.
Because we know that simply telling a kid to “not do something” is actually not an effective strategy. But having conversations, role playing certain situations, looking out for teachable moments, learning from our mistakes, being allowed to make some mistakes, are all far more effective ways of helping to promote good positive online behaviours than merely a lecture accompanied by threats to take it all away. Whilst we want to absolutely give our kids the skills and understanding to be safe as a number one priority, we also need to prepare them to be proactive in taking care of themselves, and preparing themselves for some of the challenges that will no doubt come their way.
So what are some of the things we can do as parents to prepare kids to thrive online?
- Give them the skills to be proactive and not just protective: look at ways we can use the online world for good. Create positive experiences for themselves and others. Learn something new, create something meaningful. When kids are engaged and engrossed in positive experiences they are less likely to seek out the negative ones.
- Nurture the development of creativity and developing positive content: there are so many ways to be creative online. Playing games can even unleash our creativity. Composing a song in Garageband, making a movie in iMovie, getting creative with photography, writing a blog, starting a youtube channel are all ways to use technology to tap into creative and curious minds.
- Mentor more and monitor less: it is certainly important to keep a close eye on what kids are doing online when they are young and we can monitor their online experiences to help support and guide them. As they get older however, not only does it become a lot harder, but we also want to trust in them that we have developed the skills and instilled the values for them to do the right thing. That means we also must be conscious of how we spend our time online and the examples we are setting for our kids.
- Help them build empathy to support those who are struggling: there are often times when young people will not turn to an adult to help them out of a situation online, but they may seek the support of a friend or peer. It is important that kids learn to empathise with others to not only prevent them from behaving in negative ways themselves, but so they can recognise and lend a hand to those others who may be doing it tough.
- Provide opportunities to shine both online and off: getting kids involved in sports, clubs, communities and immersing themselves in a whole range of experiences allows them a solid foundation to fall back on when things go wrong or they face challenges online. With a range of people to role model and with the ability to achieve and be recognised for efforts in the real world, they continue to see their whole being as something far greater than their social media feeds.
- Have skills to deal with difficult encounters. There will no doubt be times kids find themselves in conversations, interactions or even a group chat that can turn nasty, hurt a reputation or negatively impact a digital footprint. In these times it can help to be prepared for your response, rather than reacting on the spot. In my work with students we often do role plays for scenarios that are often played out online and we help kids determine the best course of action, and even the actual worlds to use (if any) that will bring about the best outcome for themselves and their wellbeing.
- Gain perspective: understand the complexities of a whole range of people, backgrounds, values, beliefs and experiences that come together and how that will determine your level of interaction and how, when or if you should get involved in those encounters online. Remembering that whilst healthy debate is fine and welcomed, it is very unlikely that we change peoples minds about an issue online. And the moment that argument gets personal, threatening or violent, then we must know when and how to abort the conversation.
- Encourage the shrug: One of the greatest skills we can attain in this world of hyper connection, opinions, beliefs and anonymity….is the ability to lift and drop the shoulders and give a good shrug. Recognise the futility of engaging further, be aware that some things just are what they are, and head on to other more positive experiences.
- Learn about their world: not so you can lecture and block and ban….but so you can have the conversations and build boundaries and habits and behaviours that will help steer them in a world of thriving, whilst you focus on the most important connection of all……the one you have with your child.
So there you have it. Some of the backbones as to what I teach, share and use every week with students, teachers and parents to put them in the best position to allow young people to thrive online.