I saw a statistic recently that in the past year there have been more advances in technology than in the previous ten combined. As a result, our world is evolving at an alarming rate and our society, at times, is just hanging on for dear life. Ideas become movements overnight, fueled by the viral power of social media. Justice is no longer handed down in closed courtrooms governed by rules of law; there is a new set of rules in the court of public opinion. This morning’s breaking news is outdated before the coffee in your Yeti gets cold. We swipe right to find “true love” and find our self-worth wrapped up in likes, favorites and follows. And it’s all accessible 24/7 via your watch, phone, tablet, computer, or television.
My entire 15-year career has been in marketing. I’ve ridden the wave of technology through the days of targeted email marketing, responsive websites, mobile apps, online search ads, podcasts, social media campaigns, and whatever other new and emerging tool was available. It wasn’t until my wife and I were blessed with our first child that I really stopped to think about how all of this access was going to shape her life experiences in ways completely different than my own. She’d never have to crack open an Encyclopedia Britannica at the kitchen table to do research for her homework. She’d never use a pay phone. She’d never have to worry about oversleeping and missing Saturday morning cartoons or forgetting her camera at home and missing the perfect photo.
While these advancements give us the ability to do and access more than ever before, it is our responsibility, as parents, to teach and demonstrate the right way to interact with these technologies. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way she should go, and when she is old she will not depart from it.” Here are a few helpful tips as you train up your children in the way they should go, whether online or off.
Be an Example
Contrary to what we might think or feel, research shows that parents are still the key influencers in the character development of their children. They take their cues from us, so what digital habits are you passing on? Do you check your phone while driving? (Yes, just at the red light counts). Are you constantly responding to dings, chirps, and vibrations from notification alerts? Have you ever answered your child’s question without looking up from your computer, tablet, or phone? Is your phone with you at the table? If you answered “yes” to any of these, you might want to start walking the talk because little eyes are always watching.
Be a Teacher
In addition to showing them how to interact responsibly with technology, you have to tell them, too. You can’t expect your child to know how serious their online activity is if you don’t explain to them that what they post will follow them throughout their lives. What might seem to be a funny comment on Snapchat, that will be gone in a matter of seconds, can actually be very hurtful to them or others. While they may not have college or a future job on their minds right now, they need to understand their online profiles and posts can come back to haunt them.
Be a Filter
Content filters are great and here are a few you can choose from but even the best filters aren’t going to completely protect your child. You can’t outsource this one, you need to be involved and set some guidelines so your child has a baseline for what they can and can’t view online. The basics should include rules like staying out of chat rooms, never sharing your personal information (including their school, sport teams, hobbies or any other piece of personal information) with anyone online and always run any suspicious activity they see, past you. A good rule of thumb for them is if they wouldn’t search for it, look at it, chat with it or post it with you standing right there, then it’s probably not something they should be viewing or participating in.
Be a Communicator
Keeping the lines of communication open is important in any relationship. It is especially important when our children begin going online. What may seem like nothing to them could actually be a major red flag they’re unaware of. We ask our children about how their school day went, how soccer practice was, etc. Establish the habit of talking with your child about what they saw and did online, too. Be prepared to share what you saw and did as well.
Be the Boss
Life has rules. Rules to keep us honest. Rules to keep us safe. Rules to ensure the safety of others. Here are a few you might want to consider as you introduce your kid to the world online:
- Set Time Limits - How often, how much and when. See this study about limiting screen time before bedtime.
- Set Location Rules - Technology stays in public areas of the home.
- Set Parental Controls - The content filters listed above allow you to monitor and block content for your children. In addition, make sure they know you have the ability to track their online movements. Sometimes knowing that you can see what they are doing reinforces better decisions.
Be a Dad
At the end of the day, they need to know that you’re their daddy and they can come to you with anything. They need to know you are praying for them every day, their safety (online and offline) is important to you and you love them, no matter what. As their dad, you provide answers to life they can’t find in a search box. You take them on adventures they couldn’t experience on television and you give encouragement and affirmation that can withstand any barrage of bullying they may encounter online.
The kids we raise offline will be the kids who play online. Taking the time to invest in raising fully mature disciples of Christ is the best advice for preparing our kids to thrive in any environment, online or offline.
Dad of Ellie Kate