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  • Writer's pictureNikki Buyna

Parenting in the Digital Age

Our children are online, and they have access to the entire world with the few taps on a screen. We can’t undo this access, but we can help control it.

I’d like to start by sharing a few paragraphs from an article I wrote in 2012. A post, which, surprisingly, is still accurate eight years later.

"Let’s imagine. Your daughter is finally sixteen and you bought her a car for her birthday. As you watch her close the door and fasten her seatbelt, you say those two little words… “Go on.” Now, you and I both know that you didn’t give her any lessons or hire an instructor. In fact, you forgot to have her take the driving test.

Is this responsible of you as a parent?

Of course it’s not. It’s ludicrous. But the funny thing is that this is what we are doing with our children and our students. We are giving them the most amazing vehicle—technology, but we are forgetting the importance of safety education and teaching them how to both “drive” these devices and navigate this information highway.

Let’s face it—cruising the sometimes as dangerous as driving a car, but prohibiting the use of technology doesn’t stop it; it only makes it more dangerous because it becomes secret. We, parents and educators, must begin to teach our children digital citizenship."

Even eight years later, I question whether we are doing any better in preparing our children to surf the web. I worry that way too often, we hand children and teens devices and just let them go, perhaps without realizing it’s as dangerous as putting them behind a three-thousand-pound car with no practice.

By no means should we stop children from using technology. We simply need to take the time to do it right-- which means determining:

The right age

The right amount of parental guidance

The right safety settings

The right device

The right situation

Fortunately, it's never too late to make a change. Consider the following:

Limit access

Children and teens do not need access to their devices 24 hours a day. Take it away. Create time and space for use of the device. You are not "mean" if you take the phone away at night. It’s not cruel to utilize parental controls so that your teen cannot text his friends at 3 a.m. Set limits.

Model good digital citizenship

Kids learn how to be good digital citizens by watching their parents and other adults. If a parent’s nose is buried in their phone all evening, that is modeling what is appropriate for the child. We must teach balance by creating balance in our own lives.

Question. Question. Question.

Have discussions with your child about the websites that you browse. Ask the important questions: who wrote this? Why? What is its purpose? Is it true? Proven? Trustworthy? Reliable? Who is gathering information from what you are browsing?

Think of social media as an unchaperoned party

Teach your child to avoid friending or allowing follows from people that they do not know. Explain the dangers of sharing any personal information, including checking into events or places, email addresses, phone numbers, where you work, your vacations, etc. Abide by the age restriction policies for apps and websites. These parameters are put in place for a reason. And most importantly, know and follow your child’s accounts. You are not “creeping on their accounts,” you are protecting them. Use your child’s phone or device to open their apps. What is on their Instagram feed or in their search history? Browse their photos and messages. What TikToks are they watching?

Obey the "granny rule"

Ask your child: would you show this to your grandmother? If you wouldn’t let your granny see it, you shouldn’t post it.

Refrain from oversharing

In addition to reminding your child not to overshare on social media, be wary of posting too much about your child as well. When you post about another person, you create a digital tattoo that they may wear for the rest of their life. We all feel the desire to share our lives and our children's lives online, but when you do, you create a brand for your child. Does their future boss need to know that they cheated on a math test in 7th grade? Be thoughtful in the image that you are creating.

With a few taps on a screen, our children can open any door. Let's help them navigate carefully.

Want to hear more on this topic? Check out last week's podcast episode on Parent Teacher Conference: The Podcast, available on most streaming platforms.

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