In part one of this series, we covered the technical advances we’ve made (smaller devices, unlimited internet and internet everywhere) and how the web has changed as well (1.0, 2.0 and 3.0). Now that we have an understanding of where we stand, how does this affect our kids?
I believe that there are five ways that our kids are being influenced by technology and the internet. As parents, we need to examine these influences and determine how we engage our kids and help them have positive interactions online.
1. The Belief That Everything is Temporary
One of the key ideas kids and teens have today about the internet is that anything can be deleted. In other words, if I put something on the internet and later want it removed, then all I have to do is just hit delete.
Of course, we’ve all seen the news stories of photos of celebrities from their hacked cellphones. These incidents only reinforce a truth about the internet. Nothing is ever really deleted.
Now I’m not saying don’t put anything on the internet because it won’t be deleted. What I’m saying, is that as parents we’re going to need to equip our kids with a basic understanding that there is a permanency to the internet. What is said or displayed on the internet will stay on the internet in some form or fashion.
Of course, this is complicated with social networks such as Snapchat that promise to delete your content after a short time. While this promise may have some truth to it, we’re naive to think that our kids and teens have a good grasp of what this means when they post content online.
2. We’re Now an Image-Based Culture
We’re now in the age of the selfie. Everything on social networks is based around images. Twitter has images in its timeline, Facebook pushes images to a higher place over text in your news feed and Instagram and Pinterest are entire social networks based around images. The internet is now an image based platform.
This movement away from text to images has some profound effects on our kids. First, I think we all know what images can do to the self-esteem of teenagers. It was one thing for us (parents) to grow up in a world of fashion magazines with photoshopped women. It’s something completely different for kids to be able to pull our their cell phones and scroll through these images whenever they like.
An image-based culture can also create a false sense of self in our kids. For example, if a teenager spends just half an hour just trying perfect a self on Instagram, what does that say about what she is trying to project and what she believes about herself? As parents, we need have the conversation about what is real and what isn’t. (Here’s some pretty interesting research about selfies ).
3. There are No Boundaries
When I was a teenager and I wanted to talk to a girl on the phone, I had to go in the kitchen and use the corded phone on the wall. We didn’t have a fancy cordless phone, instead we had a phone with a winding cord that would get kinks in it. This meant that I had to talk to a girl while my mom or any other family member were walking around the house. There was no privacy.
This of course changed when we got a cordless phone and I could walk back to my room and talk in private (unless my brother was snooping online). With this new technology my boundaries changed.
For most parents, we grew up with physical limitations to our technology. We couldn’t take our phone everywhere, we couldn’t watch videos in our bedrooms and we couldn’t communicate with our friends on a 24/7 basis. These physical limitations of technology forced us to break away from technology’s grasp whether we like it or not.
Our kids today are growing up in a world where they have no technical boundaries. They’re surrounded by technology on a 24/7 basis with little to no break. (Bold) As parents, we have to step back in and provide those physical boundaries.
4. We’ve Lost Our Privacy
As I’ve stated above, I by no means want to scare parents and hurl their families back in the dark ages. However, I do think as parents we need to assess what information our kids are putting online. Here’s a quick list of things to assess:
- What photos are they being tagged in?
- What social networks are they signing up for? What info is on the account (address, phone number, etc…)?
- Are they giving out location information on their photos?
- Who are they talking to online and who has their phone number?
Again, my intention here is not scare parents, but to prompt them to ask this question: As a parent do I know what information about my child is on the internet?
5. The Internet is 24/7
The next time you’re at a restaurant take a look at a family seated near you. See how many of the people at the table are just looking at their phones and not talking. I’ve done this on more than one occasion and found it quite disheartening to see families not talking to each other.
For most parents and their families the internet is 24/7. If we’re bored, we pick up our phones and surf the internet or check Facebook. If we feel a buzz in our pocket, we take out our phones and check our messages. The internet for us is non-stop.
Our job as parents in this situation is to model what responsible behavior should look like. For you this may mean turning off your phone when get home from work and turning it back on once your kids are asleep. Or this could mean establishing some time with your family that is “tech-free” and instead requires to you engage each other in conversation.
What Should Parents Do?
So if these are the ways that our kids are being influenced by technology and the internet, how do we respond? How can we be effective parents? While we can’t shut our kids off completely from technology and the internet, we can do some key things to help our kids out. Here are three examples:
1. Turn it Off
Almost every piece of technology has an off button. Use it. When you’re having dinner, turn off the cellphone. When you’re child is talking to you, turn off the TV or shut your laptop. The off button is your ally, use it.
2. Know the Who, Where, and What
Do you know what your kids are saying, who they’re saying it to and where they’re saying it? You wouldn’t let a stranger just walk into your house and talk to your kids, but when you give them a phone with no restrictions you’re inviting that to happen. Make sure you can answer the who, where, and what.
3. Understand it First
Before you let your kids bring in new technology into the house, make sure you have a comfortable understanding of the technology. Now, you don’t have to understand everything about it, but you do need know what it does and how your kids will be using it.
I have a young child and I’m constantly thinking through what his future will look like. What technologies will he encounter? Will he know how to handle himself online? Will he know when it’s time to turn things off and just reflect?
For parents today the task is large and our response needed now. We need to educate ourselves and model the behavior we want from our kids. I know that if we do that, our kids will have a much better future.
Darrel Girardier is the Digital Strategy Director for Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, TN. He’s married to the wonderful Amy-Jo Giardier and blogs about digital strategy, resources, and more at DARRELGIRARDIER.COM.