Parents in the digital age face unique challenges that no other parents in history have ever faced, and there’s no doubt that it’s a scary task to take on. Today’s children have the Internet, smartphones and tablets, access to information, and global connectivity that was unimaginable a few decades ago. The good news, however, is that while the platform may have changed, the rules of parenting haven’t.
Keeping kids safe in the digital age doesn’t require a whole new set of parenting rules—just a repurposing of what you already know. Modern parenting is still about staying involved, setting a good example, and giving kids the resources they need to figure things out on their own.
As a Littleton area therapist the evolution I’ve seen has been astounding. In only a few years a parents challenge has changed from teaching children to entertain themselves to trying to monitor their use of devices that keep children occupied all the time. Following are a few suggestions that I have…
Protect Kids by Staying Involved
It may seem like an impossible task to keep track of what your kids are doing when they’re spending all that time in front of the computer or on their smartphones. But it’s actually not all that different from keeping track of them when they leave the house: you stay involved by asking questions. Just like you ask who they’re out with and where they’re going, you can similarly ask them from time to time about:
- What sites they frequent
- What kinds of apps and games they’re playing, and how they work (if you don’t know)
- Who their online friends are and who they talk to
- Which people and sites they follow
Whether it’s going to soccer games, seeing school plays, or keeping apprised of their online lives, parenting was—and still is—about active participation and unconditional love.
Monitor and Restrict Online Time
When your child wants to eat ice cream for breakfast, and you say no, this same parenting skill is applicable in the modern world. Again, it’s only the subject matter that’s changed when it comes to the digital world: the same way you ensure they eat nutritious food, so too can you make sure they’re only consuming high-quality and appropriate digital content. Being a parent to a digital native means restricting what they do and how much time they spend online, monitoring who they talk to, and teaching them about appropriate online behaviors and content.
Similarly, it’s important to teach kids that they should treat people online the same way they would in person because their online actions have consequences just like real-world actions do.
Understanding and Using Technology Responsibly
Another traditional aspect of parenting that still applies in the digital world is the importance of being a mentor and role model for your children. Kids tend to learn by example, and this holds true for interactions with technology. If you are digitally literate and understand and practice appropriate online behavior, so too will your child.
If you spend all your time texting or checking emails or trolling Facebook, your child will grow up thinking that’s acceptable. If you want to teach your child about limits, restrictions, and appropriate behavior, then you too must practice those same things, and this is true in the real and virtual world.
Technology is now a ubiquitous and unavoidable aspect of life, so more than ever it’s important to make time to spend with family, in person, without the distraction of digital devices. And as long as you make the effort to unplug now and then and encourage your child to do the same, then you can still enjoy technology without letting it rule your lives.
Raising children in the digital world doesn’t have to be a daunting and intimidating process, especially if you remember that all the same rules of parenting still apply.
As an animal assisted therapist I’ve learned that children can still be entertained the old fashioned way. The digital age is no different from any other age, save the devices and connectivity. Interaction and engagement with others is just as vital now as it has always been.
Dr. Steven Lazarus is a psychologist in Littleton, Colorado. He specializes in helping children and teens work through divorce.