Digital parenting – making sure our kids get the best, not the worst, out of today’s digital world

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Digital parenting dos and don'tsYoung people are immersed in technology in ways we and past generations could never have conceived. The Internet, cell phones, social media sites, and all manner of online tools are at our kids’ beck and call. Even kindergarten children these days are coming home with links to online learning sites, and most have at least one computer in the classroom.

Many young kids in elementary school have sweet-talked their parents into getting them cellphones and tablets. So no matter how diligently you may control and monitor your own child’s online behaviour, the fact is, it’s not possible to monitor them every second of every day. Digital technology is changing the way our kids think, learn, and interact with each other, and digital skills are essential in preparation for their future. 

You may be familiar with the term Digital Literacy. The University of British Columbia defines digital literacy as “the interest, attitude and ability of individuals to appropriately use digital technology and communication tools to access, manage, integrate, analyze and evaluate information, construct new knowledge, create and communicate with others in order to participate effectively in society.” So how can we, as parents, equip our children with the information and common-sense skills they’ll need to be smart and safe yet take full advantage of the many resources and learning opportunities they’ll find online? The following suggestions may be helpful:

Digital Parenting Dos and Don’ts

Family media time – Familiarize yourself with the online tools your school is using, and use them with your children – make it fun! Take advantage of every opportunity to educate your children between safe and unsafe sites, and good vs. potentially dangerous online behaviour.

Don’t be afraid to turn it off! – It can be tempting to use the TV or computer/i-device as a pinch hit babysitter, or to leave it on in the background, but try to resist this temptation too often. Background distractions have been proven to have a detrimental effect on children’s attention spans, so if your child isn’t actively watching a program, turn the TV off, and encourage other quiet independent activities when you need some time to attend to your own concerns.

Keep media out in the open – Even if their friends have a TV or computer in their bedroom, be careful about what you allow into your own kids’ rooms so that you can easily monitor what’s going on.

Limit screen time – Enforcing a “lights out” time for all digital equipment can help to manage the amount of time your kids spend online or in “view” mode and leave time for other activities. Make sure the final hour or two of the day is spent away from the screen to give your kids time to unwind and prepare for a restful night’s sleep. Children continue to develop through their teens, so for the sake of their developmental health, it’s important to ensure they enjoy well-rounded exposure to a variety of activities and environments.

Talk about privacy – be clear with your kids from the beginning that anything and everything that is posted online is never really and truly private – what goes on the web stays on the web. Tell them that if it isn’t something they’d want you, their teachers, or their grandparents to see, they’d better not even consider posting it online, be it an image/photo or something they’ve written. No Facebook security setting should be trusted as the be-all-end-all of online privacy.

The difference between funny and mean – Online bullying is positively pandemic nowadays, and nobody is safe from its evils. Be sure to be clear with your kids that there is a fine line between funny and mean – coach them to always take a moment to review what they’ve prepared before they hit “send,” and if it isn’t something they’d be perfectly happy to have said about them, delete it and either try again or remain silent on the matter.

Plagiarism and Piracy – For older children, the Internet can be a limitless source of information and school project material. Make sure they know how and when to cite their sources to avoid charges of plagiarism and future re-writes or failing grades. Likewise, theft is theft, even on the Internet, and it’s important that we explain this to our children from the beginning. Books, movies, music, games, and virtually anything else can be downloaded illegally, so talk to your kids about online honesty.

As various technologies become more ingrained in our daily lives, it is increasingly important that parents have a strong sense of the best and most appropriate use of this digital space.Take the time to explore these exciting tools with your children, and set them on a path of positive digital interaction. To complement the information above, your school may have some useful material for you to read and share with your family, and there are many online resources that can help you make sure your kids have the digital smarts to successfully and safely navigate this overwhelming territory.

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