Raising children in a digital society can be challenging. Today kids are exposed to technology and are sometimes given their very own keypads in their first years of life.
Generations earlier, the big talk was about the birds and the bees. Maybe parents would discuss this with us only a few times. A handful at the most -- sometimes not even that much in our adolescent years. Sex was (and is) a topic that many parents want to talk about as briefly as possible and then walk away.
When it comes to the digital world, there is no walking away. The reality for today’s youth is that their online reputation will someday determine their college admission and very possibly their future employer. Every keystroke, post, and comment counts.
Your child's online social skills are as critical as their offline people skills.
Where do you begin?
In tech terms -- by chatting. The tech talk is not a conversation you have once or twice, it's an ongoing discussion since the web is changing (as are your children) on a daily basis.
Unlike the sex talk, talking to your child about their cyber-life has to be done on a regular basis. It should be as common as, "How was your day at school?"
Short chats are better than no chats.
Whether you are riding in the car or sharing a meal, be sure you take ten minutes or more to talk about their digital lives.
The Internet is evolving every day, not only for our children but for adults too, so this can be a two-way conversation. Encourage them to show you new apps or websites they’ve discovered, and you can show them what you have learned as well. Are you frustrated with your computer, tablet, or mobile device? Who better to teach you easier ways to work with new technology than your teenager?
Keep in mind, cyberspace is the 21st Century playground for our youth and teens. Not everyone they meet on this playground has good intentions. Just as you would discuss their offline friends and social activities, chat with them about the friends they mingle with online and the websites they visit. Building that relationship of communication and trust at home will empower them in the cyber-world. Again, it’s why your offline parenting skills are critical to helping your child make better digital choices.
C - Communication is key. Offline parenting will help online safety. Never stop talking about your child's daily cyber life. It is just as important as how their day was at school.
H - Help is always a call/text away. Be sure your child knows you are available to them. Note that the number one reason children don't report cyberbullying to their parents is fear of losing their lifeline to their friends -- the Internet. They should never have to fear your judgment, especially if they fall victim to online harassment. Make sure they know their safety is always your priority and that you are on their side.
A - Action plans. Talk to your child about action plans for cyberbullying. You are your child's advocate and you will be there to help them implement steps to prevent online cruelty. Starting with the child knowing to tell a parent or adult, and continuing with learning how to block and report.
T - Treat others as you want to be treated. It is the most important rule in real life and on the Internet. Always treat people with kindness. Make it a top priority.
With short chats, you can learn how to better protect your children from cyberbullying in a way that works for them and for you. Through daily check-ins, you can empower them to make better digital decisions when you aren't around. Teach them the phrase “when in doubt, click out,” so they know what to do when they feel uncomfortable in a chatroom, on a website, or using an app.
It is imperative to understand that in today's society the online world is as important to our children’s lives as their daily offline world. We must also treat it that way. Talking to them on a daily basis about their virtual lives, even if it is only for a few minutes, is just as important as getting their homework done on time. You don't have to be a tech-geek or social media super-star, just be a caring parent.