Keeping an eye on all that our children are doing online is not only time consuming and tedious, but it is almost impossible. We can certainly monitor what sorts of things they are accessing from home, keep track of how long they are online and control some of the devices they are using. As our children grow and their online world becomes a portable little extension of their own existence however, it becomes evident that keeping tabs on everything they are doing is both frustrating and futile.
I am the first to argue that we need to make a definite attempt to keep up with what our kids are doing online. I spend a substantial amount of time online myself and through my work have considerable knowledge of all that is available. But they are often a step ahead. And if I find it difficult, I can only imagine others would also find it rather daunting.
I know many people who have kids who are not allowed on Facebook. Interestingly these same kids are following me or my son on Instagram and on other apps and websites. I also know many parents havnt heard of most of the social networking sites their kids are visiting. The problem isnt that they are using these sites, but rather that these kids are spending a considerable amount of time taking photos, commenting on others, having conversations, accepting strangers as friends and giving away many details via their photos about where they live, what they like to do and who they are ‘hanging out’ with. Likewise I also know many parents who havn’t heard of Tumblr yet their kids have an extensive profile there that they are adding to daily. Many kids are in fact moving away from some of the regular sites like Facebook to other places where they are not subjected to the same adult scrutiny. Others are messaging friends via Kik and Touch and tomorrow it will be something else.
So what is a parent to do then if it is all too hard and is constantly changing ?
The most important thing to do is to teach our children online social skills that will see them prepared for any website, any app or any new social networking site. If we give them the skills to understand the implications of everything they do online, then we can hope that these skills remain whatever changes happen within their online world.
Yes it will continue to change. Yes you will feel like you can never keep up. But make an attempt to understand their world, teach, support and guide and the rules can remain the same.
Some of the most important skills revolve around setting boundaries and time limits that help them regulate their own behaviour. We need to make them aware of their digital footprint and the implications of everything they do online. We can make them accountable and follow family rules, discuss the difference between pucblic and private and talk openly, honestly and often.
So rather than focusing on whether you are allowing your kids on Facebook, whether they are befriending you on every app and whether you have access to their content, spend more time teaching them the skills they will need to safely navigate all areas of the online world.