Often at my parenting workshops I will ask for a show of hands from parents who feel their kids’ technical skills online have outpaced their own. I’m no longer shocked by the number of hands that go up. With them come guilty confessions from parents who need their six-year-old to turn on the Apple TV, their eight-year-olds to figure out why the printer isn’t working, or the ten-year-olds who help them download and set up apps on their smartphones.
They are proud of their kids’ knowledge, of course, but they worry that they will be totally incapable of guiding their children’s use of the Internet and social media.
They hear media stories about cyberbullying, online sexual predators and sexting scandals involving seventh graders, and they aren’t even sure where to begin.
The good news is that you don’t need to become a tech expert to supervise your kids. In fact, you can begin without any technical skills at all, simply by talking to them from a very young age about controlling the amount of time they spend online, removing computers, smartphones and tablets from their rooms at bedtime, discussing they information they share online and who they can connect with on email, video chat or social media. While there is no magic age when kids are ready for email or social media accounts, you want to take into account their maturity levels and willingness to follow your basic rules.
The next step is familiarizing yourself with some basics – setting up an email account, and doing some basic research to understand how accounts and privacy controls on the most popular social media networks are set up. You can even get your child to help you with this research – the time you spend together online can offer great opportunities to discuss these important questions. All of this takes some time and may push you out of your comfort zone, but this is what responsible parenting looks like in 2014.
If you are a parent of a child in preschool through grade 7, I invite you to join me on Tuesday, April 29th (7-9 p.m.) at the McGill Faculty Club for a 2-hour evening primer on the world of kids and social media.
We’ll look at some important general guidelines and household rules for kids of different ages, and how to set up basic accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr (along with a description of those applications). I’ll show you what privacy controls are available (and recommended), and how to block or report inappropriate or dangerous behaviour. Registration for the workshop is $34.49 per person (tax included).
As parents, we recognize it’s important that kids develop skills to use digital technologies – after all, they will be inheriting a wired world. But we can’t trust this to schools alone, because even those institutions progressive enough to include such issues in their curriculum rely on parental support to make these lessons stick. They key is to support and guide them through the use of tools like email or social media in age-appropriate ways. We need to teach them to use these powerful applications safely, responsibly and ethically, as well as productively and creatively.
I often use the analogy of teens learning how to drive to explain this – we wouldn’t just send a newly minted 16-year-old driver out in the middle of a blizzard.
They need to accumulate experience on the road in good conditions, take lessons, learn our rules, the highway code and the law. When we guide our kids online, we pass on our values, experience, judgment and maturity.
For more information about this session, or to register, please email email@example.com.