Should I let my child watch Squid games, play Fortnite, get Tik Tok? Should I let them have Instagram, play Call of Duty, watch an M rated movie?
Questions such as these are regular from parents, and pretty valid questions considering the combination of children ruminating the fact that everyone is allowed but them, coupled with the repeated headlines about the danger of the latest game or series or social media and how by allowing this or that you are ruining any chance your child has of developing into a functioning adult. Don’t get me wrong…many of these are completely innappropritae for certain young people, for certain age groups, for certain personalities and for certain families. So the warnings can be very valid.
So how do you make the call? How do you know if you are doing the right thing by giving in to the pressures, the pleas of being left out and the guilt trip your kid puts on you for ruining their whole social life and future prospects?
Here are a few questions to ponder in order to make your decisions….
What do the experts say?
Yes there are people that take a deep dive into the media to determine the appropariateness of said game, platform or movie based on a range of psychological and developmental indicators. But remember to read a few different ones so you recognsie the common concerns and can get a better understanding of the exact reasons why they may be warning against or telling you its fine. One of the best online reviews for all media can be found at commonsensemedia.org where there are comprehensive reviews and explorations as to why there may be concerns, who may be at risk and what are the actual themes, language, concepts and content that they will be exposed to. And you get to hear from both adults and children who give their points of view.
Have you watched it, played it, engaged with it yourself?
I think this one is probably the most important. When in doubt, watch part of that series first to ascertain its appropriateness. Or have a play of that game for a bit. If you want to try before you buy, watch someone else play it on youtube. You will only have to watch for a short time to get a good feel as to whether your child is going to be able to handle whatever you see and hear. You may decide they are not, or you may decide you would like to discuss with them the content first to get a feel for how they will manage it, what their thoughts are and whether they have the capabilities to remain safe. If it is a social network, again have a play around with what you can see. How do people engage with it and what are the sorts of things the technology is capable of doing. Then you can decide whether you child has what it takes to manage all of that.
What is your childs developmental maturity?
How do you see their phsycial, cognitivie, social and emotional development right now? Remember that you know your child well so giving them access to watch Squid Games because others in their year level have watched it is not going to be appropriate for your child who still doesnt like to sleep alone or without the light on. Or if you have a child who gets particularly impacted or triggered by scary things or violence. Or maybe it just runs in complete oppposition to the values you are trying to instil in your young person right now. Remember too, that age alone does not determine this cognitive, social and emotional development. (You can read more about this in a previous post “Social Media Age Restricitons: Why the system isnt working”)
If your young person is wanting social media or any platorm where they are interacting and connecting with others, here is just a handful of some of the questions they will need to be able to answer if they are going to stay physically and emotionally safe and well on these platforms.
- Does your young person know the difference between friends and followers?
- Do they know how to mute, block or report people?
- Do they know how to abort a conversation that isnt going well?
- How do they know that person is exactly who they say they are?
- Could their moods affect how they engage with people online?
- Would they know how/if to respond to a nasty comment?
- Would they save sensitive conversations for real life?
- How would they react to unwanted contact or attention?
- Could they be basing their self worth on the judgements of strangers?
- Do they believe everything just because it is written?
- Do they have any understanding of their digital footprint?
This is by no means an exhaustive list but hopefully it gives you some understnsding of the critical thinking needed to happily and healthily engage with others in the online world and a glimpse at some of the conversations we may like to be having with them to ensure this happens.
How will you monitor the effects?
Is is just about handing it over, forgetting about it and then dealing with the consequences, or can you have an easing in period? Can you offer them a trial run where you have access to their social netowork or gaming acount to check in on conversations, friend lists and interactions with others? Can you offer a trial period to ensure they comply with some ground rules that includes no tantrums when you ask them to put it away? Look at how your young person responds so that if it all goes bad, at least you can have some solid reasons why you may next time say ‘no’ or why you may like to approach things differently.
What are their real reasons for wanting it?
Have you discussed why they really want to watch it, play it or engage in it? Is there something else they could use to ensure the same outcomes? Have they really thought about the necessity of viewing it or is it just becasue everyone else is talking about it? Have open communication with your kids about the reasons you have concerns or the reasons you come to certain decisions. At the same time giving them some input into the dialogue and by acknowledging their perspective, you will help ensure they feel heard and will more likely adhere to any boundaries that are put in place.
Can you make it safer?
Most social networks and games are not at their safest by default. Most need you to go in and change to a private account, or prevent a user being approached by randoms, or hide obscene langage and illicit content. So always go into the privacy settings to see what is on offer. Maybe it is turning off offensive words, phrases or emojis in the comments section of Instagram, maybe its ensuring your child is playing Roblox using the correct age, maybe it is turning off the chat feature in Twitch, removing references to guns and violence, preventing in app purchases or accessing family friendly servers in Minecraft. Take the time to regualrly visit the privacy settings to give you some (not 100%) peace of mind that they are engaging in the safest way they can.
Remember however, we cannot rely on settings alone to keep kids safe and well. We cannot rely on the opinions of others alone to keep kids safe and well. And we cannot rely on their age alone to ensure they have everything they need to be physically, socially and emotionally healthy and well, wherever they find themselves and whatever they do, play, watch and see online.
So continue to talk, communicate your concerns, live by your values, but listen to theirs too in order to come up with something that gives them the boundaries they need. At the same time, when we offer them guidance, support and teach them critical thinking, we are doing our best to equip them to happily and healthily engage in media that will ensure their physical and mental health and wellbeing remains a priority.
For more help to Raise a Great Kid in the Digital World, you can purchase my book either as a hard copy, or a PDF delivered straight to your inbox.