If you’re anything like me and most parents I know, you’ll want to do whatever you can to help your children grow up to be responsible citizens, whether they’re online or offline. You want to know your children can look after themselves and be resilient in the big wide world to handle whatever happens to them. But in today’s world where there’s so much negativity in the news, and so many people are involved with cyber bullying and other unpleasant activities online, how are we (parents) supposed to help our children become the responsible citizens we want them to be?
There’s a lot of evidence suggesting we need to be involved in our children’s online world (incidentally, to a child their online world is just as much a part of their life as their physical world, and in their eyes it’s just one world blended together, there’s no distinction). More so, we need to act as a guide and mentor to our children to help keep them safe online and become responsible digital citizens. Here we’ll cover an invaluable conversation you can have with your children to achieve this result.
Discuss The Purpose Of Their Online Activity
There’s no doubt that children are impulsive. If you were to ask a young child what their purpose is in being online they might look at you blankly, or they might just say it’s to have fun of course. If you ask an older child the same question they might say it’s to stay in touch with their friends as it’s where their social life is happening. Oh, and maybe to do their homework.
I challenge you to find a single child who will tell you their purpose of being online is to set themselves up for a successful future career and/or relationship and/or home!
Children are not thinking about their future when they post and share messages and images online. It’s just not a factor that enters their mind; it’s not natural. This is where we can intervene and introduce a new thought process to them.
Why Purpose Is Important
In his book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, Stephen Covey talks about the need to “start with the end in mind”. He tells us that if you want to achieve anything of value, you have to set yourself a goal to work towards. You start with the end in mind and then work back to consider the steps involved in order to achieve that goal. This makes sense.
When children are online and particularly on social media, they don’t usually have a long-term goal. They are there because they don’t want to miss out on what their friends are doing. They want to share posts to generate as many likes and shares as possible, and they’ll often value themselves based on responses and interaction with their posts.
What they’re not considering are the potential long-term effects of the information they generate. They might have heard the phrase “what goes online stays online” but kids don’t have a deep understanding of what this really means, or of the possible consequences of their actions. It’s just not the way their brains are wired.
Consequently we have children sharing highly inappropriate content and images of themselves that often leads to cyber bullying, creation and distribution of pornographic content, sextortion and other types of image-based abuse, predators trying to groom them and more. Obviously this is something we want to avoid at all costs.
What Is The End Game?
We need to encourage our kids to think about what is their end game. Their digital footprint can very much work for them or against them, so they need to be thinking about what sort of messages can they share that might work in their favour in future? And perhaps more importantly, what should they NOT be sharing?
Our kids need to understand that rightly or wrongly, they will be judged by others in future based on their online presence. This includes selective schools, universities and colleges where they may wish to study, the owners of a property they may wish to rent, the recruitment officers or management in a company they may wish to work for, as well as a future potential life partner.
Their end goal therefore needs to be that when any of those people look at their online presence they are impressed by what they see. Countless children do themselves out of what might otherwise be amazing opportunities because their online presence makes them look irresponsible, rude or just inappropriate for a particular position in a company.
Stop and Think First
Have conversations with your children to encourage them to stop and think first before they share any content online. The question they should be asking themselves is, “Will this post positively affect me in future? Or could it ruin my chances of success?” The answer to this question should serve as a yardstick as to whether they should share the content or not.
It’s for this reason that parental guidance is so much more valuable to your children than simply relying on schools, the government, hi-tech companies or parental controls to do the work for you. The good news here is that you don’t need to be more tech-savvy than your children to keep them safe. Your children desperately need you to mentor them online so that they can avoid the many pitfalls that are out there and at the same time, benefit from the numerous advantages technology can bring to their life.
Next Steps To Mentor Your Child Online
Lots of parents underestimate what their child already knows and what they’re able to do online from a very early age. Kids are very smart these days, and a six-year-old today is as tech-savvy as a ten-year-old was a few years ago.
The time to start mentoring your child online is NOW (well actually it was probably yesterday…but today will do!). There’s a lot more help available in my book, “How To Keep Your Children Safe Online…And Put An End To Internet Addiction” as well as my Peaceful Digital Parenting Monthly Membership. To find out more about both of these resources and more feel free to join me on my next live webinar – look forward to seeing you there!