I was invited to participate in a morning talk show to talk about children's use of Internet and electronic devices. I didn't think much of it and began preparing by reading a couple of current articles on the subject, without realizing how important this is to the modern parent.
During the interview's break I had the opportunity to talk to the other guests about it as they had a few concerns about their kid's device use. "Should we allow our 5 years old child to have an iPad?" "How much time should I allow my kid to spend on Youtube or Facebook?".
The truth is that we are the first cohort of parents having to deal with this issue!
I remember having a "pager" in which a person had to call an operator and dictate the message that he wanted to share. Even then, we had a little restrain since we actually had to have a conversation with another human being about the message we wanted to get across. In fact, I remember being fortunate enough to be coached by concerned operators claiming to be love experts and editing my messages to be most "efficient".
Technology has advanced so much since we were kids. Our modern devices have literally removed all barriers to communication and our freedom of speech make it possible to express ourselves without restrains. So what does this mean for us as parents? What kind of material are our kids exposed to on the web? Furthermore, what kind of things are they doing with these devices.
I have had numerous sessions with kids doing very unusual and in some cases stupid things on the internet. For example, children being referred to therapy due to child pornography charges, cyber-bullying, and mothers bringing them for taking inappropriate selfies and posting them on their social networks sites. It is at times very difficult to control these behaviors if we do not actually understand the technology behind them.
We will not be able to forever protect them from the information available, but we can provide the necessary values and morals required to make the better choices and prevent them from getting in trouble.
Here are a few tips for the modern parent to follow:
1. Allow only age appropriate surfing, apps and video games
I cannot stress how important it is for us parents to check if what they are seeing or using is appropriate for their developmental stage. If you are not sure about the content or if it does not have a rating, sit with them for a while (more than 5 minutes of course) to ensure that the content is safe.
2. Your house, your Wi-Fi, your rules
Parents have the right to check their kids devices and ensuring that the content and even interaction is appropriate for their age. Set up the appropriate restrictions on the devices and do not give away your passwords.
3. Friend them on social media
This is also a perfect way to know if your kid is exposed to possible bullying, sexual predators or if they are in danger of anything else. Ensure that the privacy settings are appropriate and pay attention to their friends. Just like in our times, our parents wanted to know who we were visiting, we should know who are they communicating on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. Even though knowing your kids on Facebook is important, we must also try not to make embarrassing comments on their page!
4. Limit the amount of time spent on gadgets
Children can spend an eternity on a game or just surfing the web. It is important that we prevent our children to be babysat by electronics. We must ensure that they also incorporate some physical and creative activities in their day.
We must model the behaviors discussed ourselves. It is not okay to get on your kids case for playing video games all day and not cleaning their room while you are on Facebook posting "Feeling frustrated!... The children of the corn are driving me nuts!".
In conclusion, technology is here to stay. Learn it, use it and control it.