Five Tips to Protect Your Child from Digital Dangers
A couple gathers their closest friends and family around the table. The couple is excited, nervous, anxious, and full of joy, all at the same time.
“We’re expecting!” they yell.
Cheers and tears of joy typically follow this pronouncement with congratulatory hugs being shared among guests. What was once a traditional moment to be shared and remembered by all present is a fading tradition for many of today’s young couples.
Most of today’s announcements are shared in 140 characters or less, with a short video, or image. Just as technology plays a role in our daily lives, technology is being integrated in all aspects of our lives.
From the moment of confirmed conception, you know the picture of the proud soon-to-be mom sharing her “+” (positive pregnancy test) via social media, we socialize our yet-to-be born children online. Next are the growing baby-bump and nursery preparation images. Until one day, we see what we have been waiting for. The social media post from the delivery room. Sometimes we see a clean, cuddly baby and sometimes we see a crying, still attached, straight-from-the-womb newborn.
Every “first” the new bundle of joy has will be documented forever in social media archives with words, sounds, and both still and moving pictures – the first new family photo, first snuggle with the big sister, first bottle, first diaper change, first car ride, first nap on your shoulder, first trip to grandma and grandpas, first smile, first giggle, and first swipe on a smart phone or tablet. I know you have seen it; the image of an infant or toddler “playing” on the device du jour.
And it doesn’t stop there. We see images of toddlers being potty trained holding an iPhone and images of toddlers or young children having a “play-date,” yet each child is holding his or her own tablet and not interacting with the other child. Or the family is at the restaurant sitting around the table, each one staring at the screens of their favorite device, while all but ignoring the physical presence of their most cherished family members just an arm’s-length away.
Clearly, as a society we are raising Digital Natives. But we are also raising Digital Naïves.
When we hand our youngest children smart phones and tablets to keep them entertained, we are missing something. We are missing the opportunity to ingrain cyber ethics into their developing minds, the minds of the next generation. It is hard to read, watch or listen to news media today without hearing of a tragic or unfortunate event related to technology.
What happens if you teach your child about security, privacy, empathy, bully response, screen-time balance, and other aspects of cyber ethics starting at three years old? Perhaps we will raise a generation that knows how to deal with over-sharing on social media, cyber bullying, online enticement of minors, and online trolls. Perhaps we will have fewer instances of bully-suicides, missing children, and revenge porn.
- First, model appropriate behavior. Yes, that means putting the phone down while at a meal with family and friends and other social situations. But it also means being thoughtful of the pictures you take and post. What do you think those images are telling your children?
- Second, talk to your children. Find out what their favorite game or app is. Ask if they interact with other players, and if so, how? Ask questions that help your child learn. For example, instead of telling your child, “Don’t communicate with strangers in an app.” Ask them, “Why do you think it is not a good idea to share information with someone you met through an app or game?”
- Third, start reading books geared to young children at about age three (or whenever they stop EATING books) that teach cyber safety and awareness. When they get older, around five or six, they will understand more of the nuances behind the core concepts.
- Fourth, talk to your family and friends and have them help raise their children to be savvy cyber kids, just as you are striving to do. Why? Even if you do everything in your power to educate and protect your child, what happens when they go to a friend’s or family member’s house who isn’t raising their children to be cyber aware?
- Fifth, remember there is no silver bullet to raising your kids in a world full of technology. What it takes is your time and dedication as a parent to use the resources available to you.
So, put down your phone, look your child in the eye, tell them you love them and give them a big kiss. No technology can do that.