The Internet is here to stay. How do parents help their children use technology wisely and appropriately? This is the question all 21st-century parents must answer.
They say there is nothing new under the sun, but parenting challenges associated with the Internet certainly feel new. Previous generations have had to grapple with their fair share of hurdles, but this particular hurdle can feel overwhelming.
How can I successfully help my children maneuver the minefield that is the World Wide Web?
So far, our family has gone the easy route and mostly avoided technology by limiting our kids’ screen time. (Although I did admit in my last blog post that my preschooler gets his fair share of the iPad!)
None of our kids have cell phones. And none of the kids use social media . . . yet. I know that time is coming. We do use the Internet on our computer a fair amount, however. My older two kids do research using Google. I have one daughter who loves finding creative ideas to implement on Pinterest. And all the kids love looking at animal videos on YouTube Kids.
The first thing to understand about the Internet is that it’s not inherently bad. It is useful for communication, accessing educational information, transacting business, and a myriad of other things. Unfortunately, the Internet can be a dangerous place for our kids.
Here are some ideas for helping kids to use the Internet wisely. Much of this has been borrowed from a talk presented by David Murray, author and professor at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.
1) Educate yourself about the Internet. Parents should understand the dangers of the Internet and what sites and social media outlets kids frequently use. This is, I think, is one of the biggest challenges because these things change so rapidly and it’s hard to stay up-to-date on the latest trends. I guess the idea of self-education means that it’s going to take time and effort on the part of parents to be as knowledgeable as we can when it comes to what kids do online. This starts with good relationships and honest communication with our kids.
2) Fence your computer and educate your kids. Use an Internet filter (Covenant Eyes and Qustodio are two options). Kids should also initially be told what websites they can visit. If they are trustworthy, you can add more websites. Set time limits for kids to limit the frequency of use. It is also very important to make sure that you tell kids they are not allowed to divulge personal information online. They should never give their real name, address, or phone number. Kids should be careful about giving their email address. They should ask permission before they chat online. They should also ask permission before they download anything.
3) Mentor your kids about online use. Ask children why they are doing what they are doing online. Praise good use of the Internet. Have active discussions about online activity and safety.
4) Supervise from a bit of a distance. I recommend that kids use computers in a public part of the home. You should be aware of what sites they are visiting by looking at the browsing history. An internet filter can help keep your kids safe, but don’t rely on digital supervision alone.
5) Review with your kids. Keep the communication going. Sit down with your kids periodically. Ask them about any great websites they recommend, and also any websites they are worried about. Ask them about any mistakes they have made. Make sure they can talk to you freely, without any repercussions. It is important for our kids to know they can open up to us and get help, without having any reservations about talking to us, because they fear our anger or disappointment.
6) Trust your kids as they become more trustworthy. When your trust has been earned, step back. Our teenage kids will be on their own in a few years and they need to be given trust, and more access, gradually, so they can self-manage their online activity in a responsible way. Having said this, all of us should have accountability partners to keep us on track when it comes to online use.
7) Model good online behavior yourself. We adults should also keep our screens viewable. We should let our kids know that we are also accountable to our spouses, pastors, and friends. We should show our kids that we use the Internet in a balanced and healthy way. We should be above reproach in all our conduct, including our Internet use.
Some additional links that I have found helpful:
Photo Credit: Header picture from iStock. Following photo courtesy of author.