Parenting can feel notoriously difficult at times. As much as you love watching your children grow and adore the opportunity to nurture them over the years, keeping your kids on the right track can be both physically and mentally exhausting.
The good news is you’re far from the only parent who has ever struggled with the challenges of parenting. Even the best caregivers have their issues from time to time.
At first, it feels like the digital age should be something that makes life easier for us as parents. After all, it means we can find answers to the complex questions our children ask us. It’s even how youngsters have maintained their education during the global crisis of the pandemic.
But there are issues caused by the digital landscape, too.
The Digital World is Unpredictable
As parents, we feel a responsibility to help our children navigate their lives and avoid dangers wherever possible. In the real world, we can use our experiences to teach our children. For instance, over the years, we learn how to avoid injury, which streets to stay away from in town, how to determine when someone is acting suspiciously, and so on.
Unfortunately, it’s much harder to learn how to navigate the digital world because it’s evolving at such a rapid rate. The internet is a constantly evolving and dynamic place which creates a host of risks for children. 90% of children between the ages of 8 and 16 say they have already seen illicit online material.
At the same time, children are becoming increasingly demanding when it comes to autonomy and independence. Our children want to feel as though their parents trust them, and they can’t feel that way when a caregiver is constantly looking over their shoulder.
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So how do we “look out” for our children in an unpredictable, and increasingly digital environment, without making them feel smothered?
There are a number of steps that can help:
1. Treat the digital world like any other environment in your child’s life
The same parenting guidelines should apply in both real and virtual environments. If you wouldn’t let your child explore the outside world on their own, it might be too early to allow them on the internet unsupervised too.
Younger children might need more guidance on how to use the internet safely to begin with. Alternatively, you might want to set guidelines for what they can access, by setting up “child locks” on certain kinds of content.
As children become more confident on the internet, think about the limitations you should put in place for their time in this environment. For instance, you probably wouldn’t want your child spending every hour of the day outdoors with friends. Similarly, you might want to restrict your child’s internet usage to a certain length of time each day. This can help to minimize some of the risks of social media and internet addiction. You can create a family media use plan here.
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2. Be a Good Role Model
Your children look to you for guidance in how to behave and what to do. Being a good role model is an excellent way to ensure they have the information they need to navigate the digital world by themselves. Where possible, be open about your time on the internet, and don’t hide your screen when you’re browsing the internet.
This helps to show your child that it’s important to be transparent about what they do online. When you’re interacting with people on social media, model kindness and good manners. Remember that children are good mimics, particularly when it comes to the behaviors their parents aren’t proud of.
It’s also worth creating tech-free zones in your home and making sure you stick to the restrictions you set. For instance, if you want to avoid your children using their devices at the dinner table, it doesn’t make sense for you to be checking social media over lunch.
3. Find Subtle Ways to Monitor your Children
While most parents don’t feel entirely comfortable watching their children’s activities 24/7, we also know it’s important to be aware of what our kids are doing. Ultimately, if you don’t know what your child is doing online, you have no way of protecting them.
With kids now connecting to the internet from a host of different devices, you can’t always be there to watch over their shoulder. It’s also not necessarily a good idea to be too obvious about your monitoring behaviors. Remember, your children are more likely to lash out if they feel like they’re not getting the autonomy they deserve.
Using an app to watch for issues you should be aware of on your behalf can be a good way to take a back seat in watching your child’s activities. Tools like FamilyKeeper can monitor what your children are doing on the internet and alert you only when incidents arise. You can stop looking over your kids’ shoulder but continue to watch over them. The AI algorithm gives you meaningful insights you can use to guide your interactions with your child.
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4. Be aware and informed
As a parent, it’s easy to let your concerns about an unknown environment, like the internet, get the better of you. Being informed of the kind of threats your child might face, and what you can do to help overcome them, can give you a sense of control.
For instance, it’s important to be aware of the threat of things like illicit content on the web, so you can install things like content blockers and filters when necessary. However, it’s also crucial to note that there are various kinds of content which can bypass common filters. This reminds you not to blame your child if they stumble across illicit material.
It’s also worth noting that the issues of the digital world aren’t entirely connected to the content within it. Problems like smartphone addiction are becoming increasingly common now too. Knowing how to pinpoint signs of inappropriate device usage can help you decide when to talk to your children.
Keep an eye on the threats of the digital world, but don’t allow them to make you paranoid. Though the internet has its dangers, it can also be extremely beneficial to your child.
5. Communicate More Openly
At some point, all parents need to recognize they can’t completely control what their children see and do online. However, you can control how you help your children respond to the experiences they have in a digital world.
Around 59% of teens say they’re harassed online, but only 10% of victims tell a parent. Making sure your children feel comfortable talking to you about anything that might upset them is crucial.
Rather than confronting your child when you’ve learned via an app that they’ve been exposed to inappropriate content, ask them calmly if they’ve seen anything upsetting online today.
Allowing your child to come to you and be honest about their feelings sets the foundations for a healthy, open dialogue. Take the opportunity to ask your child about what they’re doing on the web in a friendly and open way, and chat about the things you do in response, so the conversation feels natural.
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6. Explain dangers to your Kids
Finally, when your kids get old enough to understand the potential dangers of the internet, make sure you share what you know with them (without causing too much alarm). Take the time to discuss why you think it’s important for them to be cautious about their social media usage, highlighting things like fake news on social media, and online bullying.
Make sure your children are aware of the importance of privacy, and that everything they share online can stay on the internet forever. It’s also worth talking to them about anything they might be worried about on the web, from the risk of cyberbullying, to hacking.
Cover the most important topics you want your children to be aware of, from how to protect themselves from predators, to how they can avoid dangerous websites.
Talking to your child about the potential dangers of being online allows them to develop a deeper understanding of what you’re trying to protect them from. It also means they know what to look out for when they’re browsing on the web.
Looking after Kids in the Digital Age
Ultimately, the web is an ever-changing and often unpredictable place. You might not be able to stop your kids from making mistakes when they’re online, or visiting inappropriate sites from time to time, but you can help them to navigate the digital landscape safely.
The steps above will help you to build a multi-faceted strategy for overcoming the various threats the digital world has to offer. After that, the best thing you can do is learn as you go.
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