We sometimes fear what we haven't experienced. As parents, we didn't have the technology experience our kids are having today. Many parents perceive the world as more dangerous than it was 25 years ago, and that's scary. As we head into summer break and lots of downtime, kids will be using technology more frequently. The good news is that there are safeguards that make the digital playground a safer one. These involve connectivity, engagement and balance.
Connectivity builds security.
Your children are online at school, at home, on the playground and on the sidelines. They're constantly connected, so teach them to be good "digital citizens." Giving kids a solid understanding of what is expected starts them off on the right foot. In fact it's so important, we have an entire week in October called "Digital Citizen Week" devoted to it.
Kids as young as 5 can be shown how to use a moral code when playing online. This moral code is founded on values cultivated before bad things set in, including cyberbullying, identity fraud, security breaches and cyber predators.
Teach your kids to treat others as they would like to be treated online, and to pause before hitting the "post" or "send" button. Tell them what's OK to share outside your family and what's not. Show them how to distinguish truth on the Internet and how to spot red flags. Above all, make sure your kids know they can come to you for help and support when they need it.
Engage, and be all the rage.
Carving out time to engage with your kids online helps them feel supported. Check in with what games they're playing and who they're chatting with. Play video games with them and learn the lingo. Learn what a Creeper is, teleport with them on Periscope, and know what VR stands for (it stands for "virtual reality"). Skype alongside them with relatives. Know the difference between Dub Step, House and EDM (it's in the beats per minute). Watch or make YouTube videos.
Know when to unplug.
Finally, give balance by unplugging at home. While many studies show that interactive screen time is better than passive screen time, we need to keep an eye on balancing how much screen time is in our families, and whether that includes TV time.
The National Institute of Health encourages balancing on-screen time with off-screen time. Taking frequent breaks to exercise, drink water and connect with the world off-screen is good. Making screen time "bad" can create a forbidden-fruit aspect to technology. Having healthy attitudes about screen time, exercise, homework and family connections is key. Incentivize what you value, and everyone will thrive!
Written by Pam Simon, owner of Fidgets2Widgets.