When I started to write this article I thought about safety; all of the important things you need to know about how to keep your children safe in this digital age; how to protect from negativity, etc, etc. Then I thought, NO! We need to think about how we as parents engage with our kids about technology, engage in technology and how YOU are the most important innovation in the technology spaces your children visit.
Here is a really simple list of 5 things you need to ask YOURSELF about children engagement in technology.
1. Are you ok with people telling your children who and what they are, without your permission?
Before you answer this question, stop and think about it. If you are walking around the grocery store with your kids and each stranger decided to stop and tell your child what “they” thought of them, would you be ok with that? If your answer is no, then this is your very first litmus test. Can the technology spaces your child visits alter their opinion of themselves?
Almost all spaces today are designed for full disclosure, full transparency, with zero accountability. We can plea with the powers that be to protect our children in these spaces, but there is no motivation for them to comply. We as adults grimace at what happens to us in these spaces, we find it hard to comprehend, process or return from the brink of the Internet’s cruelty. Yet we expose our kids? So the question to ask yourself, when you give your child a device, are you ok with the world telling your child what they think of them? If not, get educated about where they go, whom they talk to and what they are learning about themselves…all without your permission.
2. Do YOUR feelings get hurt in the social spaces of technology?
If you answer no, then you are living in a bubble and you cannot be helpful for your child. We as parents must bravely walk first in the spaces our children go. We must be the first to turn the light on to show them there is no boogieman in the closet. We must be the first to try the food if it is too hot for them to eat. We must go first. If any of these spaces seem hurtful or offensive for you, then imagine your precious kids who a) are not old enough to understand and b) have no idea that this is not real? Yes, you are the true guide for the technology galaxy. You are your child’s first line of defense. It is your job. Yes parents, you must go first.
3. If your child can walk does that make them capable of driving your car?
Seems extreme? Not really and here is why. Motor function and emotional understanding live in two separate parts of the brain. One part of their brain lives in Tokyo and the other part in the deep vast ocean unsure of it’s depth and potential. It’s underdeveloped, uncertain and rather mysterious. For most adults it is still a vast ocean of emotional understanding; for children it literally does not exist.
Many types of technology spaces are where things are introduced before the child has a chance to fully develop their brain. In the famous line from A Few Good Men, “you can’t handle the truth”, no really, children cannot handle the false truths in the Internet, because they do not have the capacity to discriminate what hurts them and what helps them. They are emotionally not ready, period.
My current tech counterparts would have all of us convinced that the technology super highway is a good thing. In fact, children can “process” information so much better than the previous generation, we are making “smarter” kids! Children can navigate technology far swifter than any baby boomer so we assume the child is ready for the Internet. WRONG! It’s a terrible assumption that so many of us have made and continue to make. The better question is why do so many tech leaders want us (parents) to believe this?
Emotionally, children and adults spend much of their lives growing, developing and mapping their emotional basis of understanding. If you admit it, you are still growing as a person, learning to love yourself. Children do not have a fighting chance when it comes to emotional understanding and intelligence if they are told too young how to be (often negatively) or are not in spaces where they are nurtured, loved and cared for, this harms them. It alters their being. So parents I ask you, if it hurts you how much do you think your children are hurt?
4. Do You Want Your Kids to Be Like You?
During a recent discussion with some very dedicated mothers, the topic turned to screen time, screen time during dinner and late night screen time. Many were complaining about screen time during the dinner table. As I listened to the women talk about their very real concerns, three quarters of them drifted to their phones during the conversation when it was not centered on them. Many started to text and post to Facebook during the conversation. Hmm…despite all of our real concerns about our children, one thing is for certain: Do as I say, not as I do.
If we are not willing to change our habits regarding our technology use, how do you really expect your children to learn? Full stop. This band-aid ripping off is going to hurt. You set the standard of practice of your screen time use in your home. Prior to us becoming grossly over absorbed in our Facebook posts, Instragramming our lives or Twittering out our thoughts, people were present to their lives. Your children really do not know any different.
We the general populace introduce them to screens, we then introduce them to the over use of the devices and we progressively disconnect from our own lives as we lose the ever alluring battle of the pure addiction to gossip. We lose our precious time exploring other people lives all the while teaching our children: How to Use the Device.
However, if you begin to scale back your own use, monitor your own addiction and in turn set the standard of behavior for everyone in the house, your children will be so unbelievably excited to engage with you, you will not have time to take a picture and post it. Be present for your kids, be available and show them by your own actions Who You Are, so they can learn Who They Are. No device in the world should ever replace YOU in this magical innovative world.
5. Do the tech spaces your children go to show them their awesomeness?
When I was a child I remember many of my teachers, coaches and my mother were really big on resiliency. Kids need to learn to be resilient. We have “trophy” kids and “helicopter” parenting. Maybe there are instances where this is true and valid. However, in technology, particularly in social/social gaming spaces, the power of the pervasiveness on their brains is beyond much of what we experienced as children that these arguments really do need a footnote.
Technology and most of the social spaces take most people through the cycle of comparative psychosis (not a true medical term, it is one I made up). As a tech entrepreneur, mother with a background in Psychology, I am deeply aware what part of the technology is wreaking havoc on my core self esteem that I can witness what it is doing to my kids. Comparative psychosis is the first time children start to notice people in their classrooms. How they compare to other kids. Well intended teachers than tell us how our children compare on reading, math, comprehension with the other kids. We as parents begin to compare notes and we all get tangled up in this big old mess of comparison!
Then children go on spaces where they compare photos, likes, friends, lives, scores, posts, you name it. They are caught in a web of comparative psychosis that takes their time away and beats the crap out of the shred of self-esteem you the parent are trying to build. The pervasiveness of this technology is not just it’s use it is how powerfully insidious, almost invisible at first, possibly “harmless” it can appear to the most unsuspecting eye. It eventually numbs most people to the point that you are feeding the hungry monster and you don’t even know it.
Technology does have the power to show kids their awesomeness, if we are wise with the use; monitor the comparative loop and parents go to the spaces first. There are a million places in the world that now tell our children they do not measure up. Children are pretty stocked up in the resiliency department. Spend an afternoon on Instagram, Snapchat or AskFM and you will see the battle ground our children navigate.
Technology is not for the faint of heart. Work with your children to develop a strong sense of core of values, love and self-esteem, show them WHO THEY TRULY ARE, before the world tells them differently. Be vigilant about it, you’re their parent. Tech companies who make these technologies are not typically built to protect kids, they are not designed for a child’s maximum holistic emotional benefit because they were NEVER meant for kids.
Janice is a tech entrepreneur & inspirational speaker. Her credo of kindness, acceptance and a compassion for fellow beings drives the vision of her entrepreneurial enterprises. Her book, Wisdom.Soul.Startup is now available at http://wisdomsoulstartup.