Like it or not, we now have a culture where many children have an online presence before they're even born, with their parents uploading regular posts throughout pregnancy and announcing birth and early milestones via social media.
Left unchecked, the constant posting of a person’s “happy snaps” can create a distortion in children between who they really are, and their online presence, which usually consists of a facade of peak moments. Furthermore, some speculate that social media alerts result in a rush of “feel good” dopamine to the brain, making social media a habit which is potentially very hard to break, particularly when learned from a young age.
But the Internet also holds so many positive possibilities for children. I’ve seen many kids use the Internet in a structured and supported way to develop new skills, break down barriers and grow in confidence. With research showing children are spending more time online than ever before, here are five effective steps parents can take to help their children navigate the online world safely and in a balanced way:
1. Be the change you want to see.
Children are sponges and will model their behavior on yours, so take a good look at your own relationship with technology. If you can’t make it through dinner without checking your phone, you’re sending a message to your children that this is normal behavior.
2. Help your kids keep a sense of perspective.
The nature of the Internet can leave children feeling anxious about being offline for too long — worried they don’t know how many likes their posts are generating and are missing interactions which validate their position in friendship circles. Remind your kids the truest connections are made in person and most online hype is fleeting.
3. Nominate a central place for your technology.
Pick a place where all iPods, iPads, phones and laptops are to be used to ensure children can access the Internet from a safe, central environment in your home.
4. Make Internet use a treat rather than a right.
To keep a sense of balance and perspective, help children view Internet use as a treat rather than something they're entitled to. For my children, it worked well to nominate set times for Internet use. We also gave them the chance to earn extra time online through completing chores.
5. Familiarize yourself so you can talk on their level.
Visit the sites your children frequent and put yourself in their shoes so that you can communicate effectively with them and understand the issues at hand.