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Encouragement for the Digital Parent: Parenting Techniques

digital footprints and identity digital parenting Feb 04, 2018

I bet you’re wondering whether you even have a digital parenting technique.

Well I can guarantee that you do.

But first let’s clear up this digital parent business. If you have a child who is a digital native, a child born who was born after the widespread adoption of Internet technology, then by extension you are a digital parent.

Your digital parenting technique is no different than your regular parenting style.

Authoritative parents are very supportive and very demanding, and they provide a balance of rules and boundaries to their children. They explain the rules and boundaries beforehand and the child is given plenty of opportunities to explore and develop.

Permissive parents provide tons of love and attention to their children with few rules. Permissive parents encourage their children to explore freely without repercussions and the parents are an available resource, should the child wish.

Authoritarian parents are more focused on controlling the behavior of their children. Authoritarian parents believe that children should do as they are told. Period.

Now let’s sprinkle a little technology on these styles and see what happens.

Hint: there is no absolutely right style, but research shows that the authoritative digital parenting style enables children to act sensibly when they are unsupervised and to identify (and by extension minimize) risks.

An authoritative digital parent may provide the latest technology and apps for their child and expect the child to use educational apps and learn coding. These parents will explain (as best as they can) online safety and screen limits, but they will allow their child to surf the net and use technology.

A permissive digital parent may provide the latest technology and apps for their child and allow the child free rein. These parents will encourage their child in Internet and technology use and tell their child to come check-in if they have any questions or see something icky online.

An authoritarian digital parent may provide the latest technology and apps for their child, but there will definitely be rules. Period.

Whatever your digital parenting style, parenting in the 21st century often seems like a scary prospective. As parents, we hear about cyberbullying, sexting, selfies and well, quite frankly, the list is daunting. The media regularly keeps us up-to-date on apps linked to pedophiles (later claimed to be a hoax), drinking games gone viral, or new trends like child webcam sex abuse.

But along with all of the scary stuff that we hear, let’s not forget the absolutely positively thrilling stuff: the stories of young people doing good online, learning more, or reaching out to others. Internet and online technologies are changing the world, and in most cases, for the better.

With the ubiquity of Internet, mobile phones and Wi-Fi connected devices, parents may feel frustrated by their lack of concrete technical knowledge and expertise.

So, what can you as a parent do to protect your children when it seems as though your children are more tech savvy than you are?

STEP ONE: Communicate with your child. 

Stay involved in your child’s online activities by talking with them and showing interest in their online world. Ask them to show you their favorite websites or the latest app or online game.

Use The Parent Zone's WWW approach as a guide when communicating with your children.

Who are they talking to?
What are they doing online?
Where are they going online?
When are they going online?

STEP TWO: Digital footprints, comments and photos are forever. 

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” is a golden rule online. Whenever I speak with children about digital identity and reputation, I always mention the “Grandma Rule.” Would you say it, write it, post it, if you knew that you Grandma would see it? (I promise you, the young people are fervently say "No way.")

Teach your child that online activities – stay online forever. They may not be thinking about university applications or future employers, but protecting their digital reputation is crucial today.  And while it is true that many of the social media networking sites have fantastic Safety Centers that your child can contact to request that the offending material deleted – that option is not instantaneous and in a few minutes, the offending material can be shared and screen shots taken. Best rule of thumb: don’t post it.

Depending on the age of your age, you can show them short videos illustrating different aspects of online safety in a humorous and kid-friendly manner.


STEP THREE: Set time limits for Internet and cell phone use.

Set guidelines with respect to Internet and cell phone use and learn the warning signs of too much online time: skipping activities, meals and homework; weight loss or gain; falling grades. If you have younger children, set boundaries now. If you have older children, incorporate new rules with new devices. One family used this bedtime ritual: hugs, kisses, devices off and Smartphones handed over.

There are many tools available to help you set and keep time limits if your parental word isn’t enough. 

STEP FOUR: Stay involved and stay current of solutions.

We may be in the online world, but you are still a parent and as a parent, preparation and common sense are vital tools. Share with other parents or your child’s teacher or school director. Ask your parent teacher association to provide an Internet safety talk.

If you are a bit more technologically inclined, roll up your sleeves and get online and research the available resources (including my Quick Tips) from sources such as FOSI, SafeKids, Connect Safely, Netsmartz, Common Sense Media or Pew Research Internet Project, to name a few. (And for the legally inclined, dig into those terms of use on your child’s sites.)

STEP FIVE: Be a role model for your child.

Yes, I’m calling you on it. No texting and checking your own social media accounts during dinner or family time. Get back to the basics and spend uninterrupted, unconnected quality time with your child.

STEP SIX: Consider a Family Media Agreement

Okay, not that kind of agreement. Yes, I am a lawyer, but I wouldn’t even think of imposing some super legal techy binding contract with repercussions for your child if they didn’t act according. (Although wouldn’t that be great if it worked!)

A family media agreement can help your family set-up and hopefully maintain rules and guidelines on internet and technology use. And the best is that YOU can pick and choose what you want from lots of templates available.  A general rule is to make sure that you have some basics:

How much time a day can be spent on the computer, tablet, telephone or playing video games?
What websites are off-limits?
How are app or other online purchases to be made?
What are the consequences for not following the rules?

STEP SEVEN: Face your fears of online gaming and the redoubtable Minecraft.

I know most parents cringe when I mention gaming consoles or dare I say it, the values of Minecraft, but the best way to alleviate your fears of the unknown is to dive in.

Again, use this moment to ask your children what they are doing, what they are building, how does the game work. After they say 'ah, mom' a few times, they might just engage in some communication with you.

STEP EIGHT: If you face an online issue: don’t panic. Parent.

If you are faced with an online issue, don’t immediately remove your child’s electronic devices if s/he comes to you with a problem. Don’t criminalize your child for inappropriate behavior. Use the issue as a teaching point and a communication opportunity.

Last word of advice: continue parenting your child in the online world as you do in the offline world – by using your own good common sense and experience. Be supportive, set boundaries, and offer opportunities to explore and develop.

Even if you understood everything about Facebook and Snapchat security and settings yesterday; today you need to learn about Peach and tomorrow who knows what it will be. The type of media or website is irrelevant, you must teach your children to make the right choices.

Think of it this way, you do not teach your children to walk across one boulevard, you teach them how to cross any street safely.

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