Smart parenting in the digital age.

From the boomer generation to the millennials things have significantly changed, and many of us millennials have learned to use technology in a very empirical way. Rather than having someone guiding us, we learned on our own and this led us to generate a “trial and error” logic. Not being exactly the most effective way, we found ourselves making mistakes or even putting ourselves in vulnerable situations simply because we were not well prepared to properly use the tools that were available to us. 

But in one way or another, we learned a couple of things and we were left with the moral that it would have been better to have someone to teach us about safety and precaution when facing the new things that were going to definitely infiltrate our lives.  Today, even if we are not experts, we can take the initiative to accompany our children in their process of building a healthy relationship with technology. In the same way that we help them to tie their shoes, cross the street or avoid getting hurt in the real world, we must take responsibility in helping them to navigate this new scenario known as the digital environment.

That is why we have prepared a series of key points that will help you manage your children’s experience in the digital age:

  • Keeping track of your child’s digital environment

The first two questions you should ask yourself are What digital devices and what kind of media is your child using and consuming, and in what context does he or she use them? Since they were born into a world where new technologies were already intrinsic to our daily lives, they do not have the same points of reference you probably do. You probably grew up in a world where digital tools were optional and you learned to use other resources and even have fun differently. But of course, the world changed and we found ourselves indiscriminately incorporating into our lifestyle a number of things that made life a little easier. It became a habit, and since everything was new, we often didn’t even realize how and how much we were using them.

Being aware of this couple of factors is important not only for us but also for the children. One good idea is to monitor the child’s activity for 24 hours. This simple observation exercise can give you a pretty good idea about the controls and measures you can eventually adopt. Start by making a chart in which you record the devices he/she uses, how much time he/she spends on each one and for which specific activity. You can even access to the information available in the applications or pages they visit and see in more detail to which purpose (reading, watching videos, playing games).

Once this is done, do not just focus on the amount of time being spent in front of the screen, try to analyze the quality of the content they consume as well. It is not the same thing to spend an hour watching cat videos, as it is to watch content that has an educational value.

  • Establish ground rules with the other parent

Whether you live with the other parent or are in a co-parenting relationship, you need to establish clear ground rules. When the two parents live together, there is a tendency to think that opportunities for dialogue are more frequent and that it will be easier to agree on these points of view, but nothing could be further from the truth. 

Each type of family, composed in any of its forms, has its own challenges when it comes to maintaining consistency regarding education and continuity in the daily life. 

It is essential to establish, in conjunction with the other parent, some basic rules that are easy to follow, especially when the child spends time in two different homes. An agreement between the adults on the software that is allowed to be used, the controls that need to be imposed and the way in which both will establish active observation protocols is always useful. If you notice something strange, do not hesitate to let the co-parent know, if possible, discuss it together with the child so that he or she understands that this is an issue that involves the whole family. It is always good to act as a team and be able to establish an open communication and constant presence in your child’s life.

  • Help shape the child’s online experience

For this you must go through a first stage of exploration. Take some time to interact with your child, ask him/her about his/her interests and needs in the digital environment. Keep in mind that these may be quite different from yours and their habits will also depend on this.

Once this is clear, it is time to set consistent, collaborative boundaries. It is also an opportunity to explain to your child why boundaries are important and what the benefits of having them are. This will help your child develop his/her own sense of what it means to have healthy virtual behavior.

But as we mentioned before, it is a process that is constantly being renewed, so if at any point you feel it is necessary to change the rules, do not do it arbitrarily or overnight because this may send confusing messages to the child. Repeat the process, sit down with the child, explain the reasons why the rules need to be changed and the goals that are being pursued with these changes, the child will be more assertive knowing that he/she is being treated with respect and is part of the consensus rather than having to follow arbitrary guidelines.

Even with all this, it is impossible to control 100% of the things your child does online, so the main goal should always be to help him/her develop self-control and a sense of ethics in decision making. Having established a relationship of trust and self-criticism, the child himself will come to you for advice or help when something unexpected happens. The idea is not to scold him/her but to create a space where he/she can share honestly and where timely corrections can be made collectively.

  • Share, learn and play together

Accompany your children when they are just beginning to discover the technological tools available to them, children at very early ages learn by repeating the behaviors they observe in their immediate environment. Start by showing them how to use certain applications that are appropriate for their age. A Skype or Facetime call to their grandparents, watching videos on YouTube Kids, creating fun videos and editing them with the help of applications on your phone, age-appropriate gaming platforms featuring games of memory, shape recognition, finding the differences, and so on. In short, whatever you think is appropriate, and teach them to access these pages or applications by themselves in order to instill in them some virtual independence.

It is important to recognize that technology advances every day and there will come a time when you will not fully understand what your child is doing in the virtual world, which is why it is useful to keep an open mind to the fact that from time to time, they will be the ones to teach you a thing or two. Establishing this dual logic of learning from the beginning will allow you to shape positive behavior patterns early on.  And keep in mind that even if we sometimes try to control the time spent using the devices, it’s not a bad thing to allow for a little flexibility from time to time if you feel it’s beneficial to your child’s development. 

  • Safety and healthy content on the Internet

Depending on your child’s age, he or she will be exposed to different threats online. While for the 0-5 age range, this is more a matter of content and access restriction (which is easily managed by using a parental control tool), in the 6-8 age range we are already beginning to identify problems related to cyber bullying, grooming and body image.

For these same reasons, be particularly careful with the information you or your child publish on your online profiles and the parameters of your privacy settings. Remember that once something is posted online, it is almost impossible to make it disappear completely or even to control who has access to it. While there is no solution that will allow us to be completely secure all the time, we can take some precautions to have better control over our privacy and that of our children.

Discuss with your child what content one should be able to share and how to differentiate it from other things that belong in the private sphere. Start by instilling in your child the idea that when you connect to the Internet you should interact with extreme caution when dealing with people you do not know in real life.