Make Sure your Kids Have a Digital Checkup

August 25, 2015

My kids just had their physicals for school this week. One more thing I can check off my list as we prepare for them to go back to school. Now, we move on to school supplies, locker decorations, school clothes, schedules, pictures, endless forms and signatures, and learning how to wake up early again…

These are some of the traditional tasks we complete to send our kids off to school, poised for a successful school year. But, there is something that has changed over the past several years, an additional task forming that warrants attention as well as a position on the “back to school” list. This is a task that is easy to ignore because it doesn’t require a signature, a check, a doctor’s appointment, or attendance at any meetings. It’s a silent item on the ‘to do’ list, often overlooked until the consequences of ignoring it do irreparable harm to our children.

The Digital Checkup

After all, we are the first generation of “electronic” parents raising kids who often know more about the devices we talk on than we do. We are paving our own way, learning something our parents couldn’t teach us. As important as it is to teach our kids how to be polite, say “please” and “thank you”, eat fruits and vegetables, and get exercise, it is just as important to teach them the permanence and impact of their actions online.

Here is a simple list of things you can do to set your kids up for success this year- digitally.

  • Stop believing that the way you perceive things is the way they actually are. Leave yourself room to be surprised. Remember that when you're in a place of fear, you're not seeing things clearly, or the way they really are. Remember that you can't predict what will make you happy, but you can choose to seek gratitude, and peace, in the present moment
  • Set rules and boundaries. Phones, tablets, and computers are property that you own and allow your children the use...which means you are ultimately responsible for the communication taking place on those devices. Make your expectations clear.
  • Be the example of how you want your kids to behave online.
  • Teach your kids to be positive online- And to never ever EVER post anything mean, degrading, or hateful. Here is what I tell my own kids:
  • If you’re in a bad mood- stay offline.
  • Build others up. Look for opportunities to encourage and to put a smile on a friend’s face.
  • Never post a photo of someone you haven’t received consent from- And never post a photo of yourself (or anyone else) that presents you (or them) in a less than positive light.
  • Be choosey- social media is NOT a popularity contest. You don’t need to follow your friend’s cousin’s brother, nor should you allow someone you do not know personally to follow you. How do you know who that person behind the 15 year old cute girl profile really is?
  • Your social media account is not your diary. No one is dying to know what you had for breakfast. Really.
  • Stranger danger. Never post personal information such as your address, and tempting as it may be, do not ‘check in’ to show where you are right now. You can lead the wrong person to you. And, while this seems obvious, do NOT post about how bored you are...home alone...with mom and dad gone...seriously.
  • Stay engaged. When your kids are behind closed doors in their bedrooms doing homework (or not), they may also be catching up on the news. Parent newsflash: the teenage newsfeed does not look like ours. News in their world is a Twitter feed. Or Facebook or Instagram. Or any number of others-, YikYak, SnapChat, YouTube, etc etc.
  • Know who your kids are hanging out with. Social media is today’s playground, and it looks a lot different than the swing sets and slides that were on the playground I had. Friend and follow your kids. Know what they are posting. Most kids want their Twitter profile to be public, so they can be “re-tweeted.” Re-tweets represent popularity in a child’s eyes, as does the number of followers. You should also check out what their friends or teammates are posting and tweeting. Kids have a tendency to overshare, and they feel less inhibited when behind a keyboard than in person. You may be surprised at what you see your child’s friend tweeting, which is a great opportunity for that important conversation.
  • Teach them and tell them 87 times per day to be choosey. To them, social media can be a popularity contest. I tell my kids that the more people you allow to follow/friend you, the more at risk you are that someone is going to download something you post without your knowledge or cyber bully you. There is no need to have 800 people following you when you are 13. Or 16. Unless you just won ‘The Voice’ or the lottery, you probably don’t have that many close friends. Surround yourself online with those close to you who will build you up and help you promote yourself in the most positive way.
  • Teach them and tell them daily- you are an amazing person. Make sure that every single post, picture and tweet reflects that.
  • Make sure they know this: you will be Googled. Like it or not- how do think college recruiters and prospective employers find out about you? Applications and resumes are just part of the story. And parents of friends? Or the girl or boy you want to date? They are going to find you too. Your social media profiles and tweets and various posts will show up. So, when the parent of that girl you are dying to go out with Googles you and sees how much you publicly enjoy adult beverages on the weekend at age 16, your chances of dating her just went down to about zero. Until she’s 60.
  • Have tech down time. I know. Dare I say it? Since phones have become pretty much another appendage, it seems impossible. BUT….what’s wrong with taking even an hour each evening off? Extract all electronic devices from their reluctant fingers (use WD40 if you must), but put everything in a drawer in your bedroom and take a tech break. Take the time to chat, catch up or memorize the scowls and pouts on their faces so that you can sketch them for an art class you’ll take when you retire. In all candor, you have to remind them of the value of human interaction.
  • Be interested. When you’re in the car together, ask questions. It’s a little hard, going 65 MPH, for a teenager to jump out and head to his or her room. Use that time to talk about what’s going on with them, with their friends, at school, online. Ask them about newsfeeds or headlines, who their best teacher is this year, what their hardest homework project is right now, what their friends are tweeting about, whatever. Just, be interested.

Image curtsy of Flickr.

Written by

Janel Patterson

Janel Patterson is the CEO and co-founder of Frienedy, the first private group networking web application that is suitable for users of all ages. She also authors a blog that provides information for parents empowering them to both protect their kids online and promote the positive digital citizenship that is critical for long term success.