There were two very lucky things that happened to me as a parent. I was “online” early on in the early days of the Internet before my kids. And so we explored the Internet together as new sites emerged (like myspace, myyearbook, youtube, and facebook). The second fortunate thing that happened was that I found Parry Aftab’s book “Parents Guide to the Internet”. I read this book cover to cover – and this was during a time when my kids were very little and in the evening when I would sit down on the couch, after putting the kids to sleep, and had a chance to read a little I would fall asleep just trying to greeting cards.
So, as my kids learned about the Internet I was learning too – we all learned together. But those early days are past and kids today seem to be hardwired to all things Internet from birth. And many parents try to do their best to supervise by putting a computer in a central area but then they often leave the kids to roam where they will whenever they want to. More and more I have seen young elementary school age kids with iPhones and other net accessible toys. We give our kids laptops with webcams so they can do their homework. And even schools are getting into the action by handing out laptops to “keep our kids competitive”.
The world of technology is moving faster and faster. It is time for us to take a step back (just for a moment) and take back the task of parenting and be our childrens guides through this techy world. It boils down to being able to make good decisions and this can be a challenge for a very young kid. It is a fine balance between letting them be kids and allowing them to feel like a big kid and venture out into the world of social networking online.
Here are some of our recommendations:
- Be firm about the Terms of Service. Let your kid know it is not your rule but it is the rules that are on the site. So, for example, the Terms of Service on many social sites like facebook say that a person must be 13 to join. When they turn 13 you can sit down together and work through the security settings together so that you both know. Even if you have done this already with one of your kids it is a good exercise to go through again with your next kid because so many sites change their TOS and security settings every now and then.
- Let your kid know you have their back and will be watching out for them (not hovering watching over them) in case someone else posts an unwanted picture of them etc. Then if they are active on a site my recommendation is to be active on that site as well. Have fun WITH them so that they feel more comfortable about coming to you when they have questions or concerns.
- When at all possible sit together and and update your social sites at the same time. If you are sharing one computer then sit together. If you both have laptops then sit in the same room and update your sites together. This can lead to lots of laughs besides giving your kid a chance to keep you in the loop and giving you the chance to help guide them through good and bad decision making by other people online posting questionable status updates.
- Ask your kid what they think about a certain status update you both have seen and talk about if it was a good idea or a bad idea to talk about something personal on such a public format.
- And then after they are feeling more comfortable with this whole line of conversation ask them about other things they may have seen on the internet or what sites their friends are telling them they should check out.
Start out slow, work through it together, build trust and be a parent.