Todays children are growing up on the Internet. More than half of teens connect to a social media site at least daily. Three-quarters have cell phones that they can use for social networking as well as texting.
The child can make the Internet private (parents can be excluded). But it is also very public. Children can become vulnerable. They can be bullied or humiliated by peers. They may release private information and regret it later. Predators can exploit them. There are opportunities to become involved in dangerous sexual situations or hurtful relationships.
There is also an upside. Young people use these channels to socialize, learn, create and grow. They find social support from peers with common interests. They get involved in their community. They strengthen their communication skills.
Here are some simple guidelines:
- Get social network accounts of your own and learn how the services work.
- Talk with your children about core issues: bullying, popularity, status, depression, social anxiety, risk-taking and sexual development. These issues were important before social networks came about. And theyre still important now.
- Talk with them rather than spying on them. Children are, after all, entitled to a zone of privacy. And they can benefit from it as well. It helps them develop a sense of autonomy and independence.
- Establish realistic rules around Internet privileges and uses. Use the models you have used to establish rules around bedtime, doing homework or watching TV.
- Dont be overly concerned if your child refuses to friend you online. Adolescents did not begin keeping things from their parents only when the Internet was invented.
We may never know whether children are more or less at risk in the digital age. Children and adolescents have always had plenty of ways to get into trouble. Maybe its better. Maybe its worse. But due to technology, todays parents probably know a lot more about their childrens daily lives than parents of earlier generations.
So parents, even the ones rooted in a non-digital world, are still in a great position to help their digital kids.