This morning I watched the sweetest parenting guilt video ever! It’s an ad for Ikea that shows kids writing to the Three Kings (Santa) about what they want for Christmas. After they proudly seal their list for mailing (Wii, guitar, iPad), the teacher asks them to write a letter to their parents listing what they want from them. After some cute kid pencil biting the video cuts to the parents reading the letters aloud.
When asked if they could only send one of the letters, which letter would they rather send? The video shows the children answering, “Mom and Dad’s.” And the audience’s heart explodes.
Here’s the truth for parents right now. School’s getting boring, assignments are going missing, and screens captivate our attention more than ever. We know we’re sliding but we’re all overtasked; dinners to cook, emails to return, bills to pay. And the task that’s most important to us gets put on the backburner…playing with the kids.
Keeping them happy and busy without screens is exhausting! Our parents chased us outside to run with our neighborhood buddies. When we reminisce about being latchkey kids, we tell stories of the eight shades of happy peril we were regularly in. We don’t want our kids in any shade of peril. We want them tucked in the safety of our homes. As a result, we have agreed to be in their constant servitude. Poor us. Poor them.
So there’s the challenge. Kids want our love and support, but they also want our entertainment. It’s just not realistic to expect parents to provide that 24/7. But instead of working on balance, many parents throw up their hands and rely too much on screen media. They overestimate their children’s ability to make wise decisions regarding content choice and parameters of use.
What should parents do to pull it back together before the holidays?
If your child is allowed Internet access, ongoing dialogue for education and skill building is a must.If we want healthy kids, we have to create the space for the connection to happen. That means putting down our screens, sharing hugs and laughs, and teaching information and resiliency skills along the way.
Do you have a system in place to make this happen? Start today by committing to selecting a tech-safety topic/skill to discuss each week. Once you and your children share a positive moment around that topic, they’ll follow up and talk to you when that subject arises in their lives in the future. That deepening connection is worth investing in.
It simply takes protected time, a full heart, targeted conversation, and lots of listening to reboot the parent-child connection. And definitely don’t forget the laughs.
It can go something like this, “Did you hear about the dad that cyberbullied the cyberbully yesterday? He got fed up with a kid harassing his daughter on Snapchat so he posted a video talking about the kid’s dad. Do you think he did the right thing?” You can even co-view the video. By avoiding shaming lectures and staying curious and positive, it will become evident that you are their go-to person and have their backs online as well as offline.
Teach the same kind of social skills you talk to them about in their offline world. Start with digital citizenship. Introduce how to respond to cyberbullying and, if they’re older, the risks of sextortion. Cover assertiveness, social skills, and good netiquette.
Don’t just introduce the issues, tell stories and detail red flags to look for, like how to recognize the manipulative techniques online predators use to groom their victims. With GetKidsInternetSafe topics, your family will be that much more resilient when your child has to face an Internet threat (and they will eventually no matter how secure your controls).
Even easy cybersecurity strategies, like not sharing personal information, turning off geo-tags, and a post-it note over your computer’s camera lens, may cripple a Remote Access Trojan’s (RAT) ability to take over your computer’s camera. What’s a RAT? A few months into GetKidsInternetSafe you’ll be learning all that you need to know. Still overwhelming? Use tech tools to do some of the heavy lifting!
Although tech programming is one of the top things parents tell me they struggle with, the truth is we are in a very user-friendly time in the tech world. All you have to do is search for your topic in your computer’s browser (e.g., “How do I set the parental controls on the iPhone 6?”). Within seconds you’ll find easy-to-follow checklists and instructional videos on how to get the job done. One dedicated day of installation can prevent months of online risk. For younger children that means parental controls and child-safe browsers. For older kids you’ll want to know a lot about social media apps and install filtering and monitoring apps and software.
As a clinical psychologist who recognizes that a trusting parent-child alliance is key, I recommend honesty all along the way. Let your kids know from the beginning that you’re supervising screen use. If parents lie and sneak online, your kids will recognize the hypocrisy and the very connection that your dialogue has nurtured may be damaged. Don’t risk resentment, risk open cooperation and collaboration. The earlier you set this expectation, the more likely your kids will be accepting and cooperative.
Image courtesy of Flickr.