Parenting in this digital age is not for the faint of heart. It is, without a doubt, one of the most challenging things I have done. Every generation of parents face issues their parents never did and most made it through, but I think for a lot of parents, dealing with the unique challenges of technology and social media and raising kids can be more than a little overwhelming.
With two teenagers in the house, this is what I have learned:
You will never outsmart a determined kid when it comes to technology. There is always a loophole or a work around. Well, maybe you will until they are about 9 or 10, but that's probably about it.
Be careful not to turn technology into a battle of wills, because you’ll both lose. Except if they have put themselves in bad situations. Then all bets are off, in my book.
Trust is critical, but if they break it in a big way, start them over at ground zero. Make them earn it back.
Every child is different and every parent is different. There isn’t a manual written for your specific family on pretty much any topic. The key is to know your kids and what they need. And what you need, too.
For some kids, rules are enough. For some kids conversations are enough. And for some awesomely great children, there aren’t enough of either of those things to keep them from being curious, pushing boundaries, taking risks and finding trouble online. Those you have to be even more vigilant with - not on lock down, per se (unless it is needed due to situations), but you do have to be on your A game for about 8 years or so when it comes to tech. Ha!
Parents can’t use the excuse of “I don’t use tech” or “I’m not techy” anymore, because the risks are too great. Take a class, read some books. Become techy. Because if you have one of those kids I mentioned above, they will totally take advantage of your lack of knowledge. Repeatedly. It’s what kids do.
70% of kids hide their online life from their parents. Again, some kids are doing just fine and spreading their wings and some are literally trying to start the world on fire through their phones. Know which one each of your kids is and parent accordingly. Then make no excuses to anyone for it.
Watch for signs. If your kid is holed up in their room for 4 hours a day or more “watching games” they are also watching a lot of other stuff. GUARANTEED. Nothing good comes from this. If they start getting nasty when they can’t be gaming or be online it’s time to start reteaching some basic life lessons. The average teen spends over 8 hours a day online (excluding school and homework). Ask them (and yourself while you're at it) how much of that time spent is making them a better person or helping them reach their goals. And then be prepared to hear that your child is planning on becoming the next You Tube star. You know, like Ninja.
Phones are a privilege and not a right, and from a legal perspective if nothing else, never let a minor be sole owner of their phone. As a parent, you need to be able to access it to make sure they aren’t again, doing things that can harm themselves in huge ways or that will get them or you into serious trouble. Also, you need to be able to get into their phone in case of an emergency. Full stop.
Some parents say phones in rooms at night are ok. Some say never. I say no, because I learned this lesson the hard way. But again, know your kids. One of mine could care less and uses it as an alarm and the other can’t resist it if it’s there and will wake up if they hear it and have to check. How do I know this? My phone is not by my bed at night for the same dang reason! ;)
In my experience, kids who are good self regulators when it comes to life in general typically handle tech well. If you have a kid who feeds off mental stimulation to the point it makes transitioning back to real life difficult, if they become so obsessed with things that they love they sort of forget everything else, tech will be a challenge. I have one kid who loves sports and being active. Gets bored with TV, doesn’t like online drama and has never once done anything online I didn’t want her to except listen to explicit music. The other, if we left him to his own devices (which we did and it was horribly traumatic), I half joke that if we left him at home for the weekend with an Xbox and a fridge full of food, we’d come home and he’d be wearing the same clothes, sitting in the same spot, eyes glazed over and he would have forgotten to eat. The rules in place are strong with that one, and he’s in a great place - but I think he will always struggle with this - in part because of who he is - we try to channel that love of tech to other areas (coding, etc).
I have had to become more interested in things I don’t really like in order to meet him half way. Ugh. It’s called parenting. No, I don’t really care that you built your 1,000th castle in Minecraft. But yes, of course I’d love for you to show it to me. Please, tell me more! Technology is amazing and can be so much fun. Keep focusing your family and kids in that direction on a regular basis, and you'll all be amazed at how positively it can impact your life and experiences, too!
Know that there is a HUGE difference between technology and social media. Both have risks and both have rewards, but don't treat them the same. Parenting in this area is easier when you remember the difference.
Your kids will make mistakes online. Some more than once. Help them learn how to clean those messes up and love them through it all.
Give yourself some grace, too. You’ll make mistakes. Forgive yourself for those and keep moving forward.