What do families talk about when someone begins the process of learning to drive? Well, they probably talk about safety; it’s important to know the rules of the road, and to remember how serious it is to be operating this new machinery. Not to mention, just because you can take the car anywhere you want to, doesn’t mean you should. Driving equates to a sense of freedom—but there are still one-way streets and cliffs and dangers that come with that freedom. Sometimes, we take for granted things that appear part of our “normal”. However, whether it’s driving a car or using the Internet, it is crucial that kids know how much risk is involved if it’s not done right.
Let’s say that your kids have just received their first smart phones. Maybe they have access to the Internet privately for the first time, or they’re starting to explore the family laptop or tablet. This is exciting and new! Anyone can create accounts on essentially any website, post anything, and say anything, with little to no repercussion.
Although there are ways for families to limit certain potentially harmful content or interaction, the Internet can feel a little like the Wild West. It is liberating and scary (scary for the adults that is), not unlike a driver’s first time on the road.
However, the internet is not quite the same as the freeway, and technology isn’t as seemingly boundless as it may appear. Anything that you post on the Internet stays there, whether you’ve hit “delete” or any number of ways you try to make your content disappear. This anything ever posted can be unearthed and content in the wrong hands can be a very bad thing. At its simplest, someone might screenshot (a process of taking and saving a digital photo of a post) your Tweet, post, photo, or blog entry—you would never be notified, but even after you’ve deleted something, someone still has a record of it and can post it anywhere they choose.
When sitting behind a screen, kids may feel like they are in a safe space. However, this is a false premise which is why we must teach or children to think before they post. What seems private, particularly when it comes to technology, often isn’t. Later on, when applying for schools, sports teams, jobs, or internships, there are ways that these institutions can find what has been posted. Even if kids think they are posting in a private group, page, account of in a video game, or any number of social media apps, anyone can screenshot or forward the offending material on to other areas of the internet.
Like any new responsibility, it is important to have all the information before enjoying the many wonderful freedoms that come with it. Technology allows us to connect, create, and learn. It by all means should be a way for self-expression and inquiry. However, it should also be treated with caution. Just because you can type certain feelings or opinions you may be having in the present moment, take and post a picture, or leave a comment on something doesn’t mean you want these things immortalized. Kids should be taught that their actions, online or otherwise, have gravity. Unlike saying something out loud to a trusted friend or writing in a paper journal, posting to Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Discord, Twitch, or other social media platforms, will keep this information in their database—and that’s in addition to whomever may have also saved it on their personal devices.
Digital parenting is not a 9-to-5 job. By teaching kids to think with empathy prior to typing or saying something using technology we can hopefully raise a generation that take into consideration how others may feel when they see or hear what has been posted.
Take some time to talk to your kids about their favorite video games and social media apps. Once they give you one or two, ask them:
- What is your favorite part of the game/app?
- What aspects of the game/app do you wish could be changed?
By engaging in conversation with your child around what they enjoy doing with technology you may not fully understand, you will gain insight into what challenges they are navigating when they use the technology they love. These conversations will also help drive the concept of thinking before you post home to your children.
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