I have written many times before about my concerns at simply following age recommendations when it comes time to handing our children a device, or setting them up on social media or letting them play games online. Sure, age restrictions are there mostly to protect young people and ensure that their playing is appropriate for their development and maturity.
But. There is so much more to hanging out in an online world than simply reaching a birthday milestone.
We need to let them have their training wheels on first and practise what needs to be learnt before we send them down to the skatepark on a BMX. We need to see if they have the skills, behaviour and emotional intelligence to survive the friendship squabbles, cliques and playdate and schoolyard shenanigans before we expose them to the rigours of online conversations, interactions, innuendos and battles.
Let’s be clear that many, many adults have trouble doing this, so it is no mean feat. Adults bully, get bullied, exclude, overreact, become irrational, lack empathy and have their self esteem eroded by a passing online comment. But they are never really passing. That’s the problem with the online world. We reread over and over, we recognise the far reaching nature of online comments and we get the magnified nature of interactions without tone of voice or context. But hard as it may be, we need to have given our kids the opportunity to try out this stuff in real life, before they hurtle head long in to a minefield of online people and personalities.
We need to give them ample time to hang with friends. Unstructured. Not always interrupting. Not always solving their problems. Not always breaking apart the fights (unless of course there is blood).
We need to talk with them about how they handled certain situations at a play date, in the school ground or on the sporting field. Have they had enough time just testing things out? Seeing how to treat people? Getting an understanding of how they want to be treated?
Before we hand them a device, or an email account for a social networking app or set them up on a server to play Minecraft online, have we given them ample opportunities to test out those training wheels. To have a few falls, but ones that aren’t gong to do too much lasting damage. Just a scratch or a bump and back on they get.
Can they navigate a situation with friends when it gets tense?
Do they know how to retreat, back away and leave something be if it isn’t going to be worth the fight?
Do they know how their words can impact others?
Do they recognise when others are being excluded? Do they care?
Can they share? Can they take turns? Collaborate?
Of course, as young people they are only beginning to navigate these skills. But with so many structured activities, so little time it seems for free play and hanging out, they may be missing out on crucial skills to set them up for a life of interactions that will more than likely be lived largely online.
So lets give them a chance to explore these behaviours and feeling before we hand them a much greater, much more magnified and often less forgiving playground than any they have experienced in the real world.