When I was a kid, we imagined life in the 21st century would include huge upgrades in technology like space travel, jet packs, laser guns, and robot servants.
We imagined a coming space age, but the 21st century our kids are actually growing up in isn’t so much a space age, it’s a digital age. Life didn’t so much move to the stars as it did to our screens.
Don’t get me wrong, the digital age is astounding. Our kids carry computers in their pockets that are smarter than computers that used to fill entire rooms, and they use these little devices for anything from video chatting, to taking classes, to shooting photos or videos in higher definition than professionals could twenty years ago.
But then of course, our kids can also watch all manner of porn, meet and exchange personal information with virtual strangers, stay “connected” to peers 24-7, and learn how to circumvent parental controls with a simple Google search.
The digital age has many parents concerned, and understandably so. I’m one of them. What can parents do? And what can non-tech-savvy parents do?
Here are five tips for parents raising kids in a digital age:
- Accept that the on-line world is a part of your kids’ world. As parents, it’s our job to equip our kids to live in the day and age in which they’re living. You most likely don’t have to teach your kids how to hollow out their own canoe, but you should teach them to navigate the grocery store, highway traffic, finances, and…the digital world. You could insist your kids stay off-line, but in my opinion, you want your kids learning about this aspect of life from you while they are still at home where you can teach them the skills they’ll need, set up age-appropriate boundaries, have conversations, and be with them as they go. I want my kids to hear my cheers as they make good choices and to feel my grace and support when they make bad choices.
Aim to be your kids’ biggest supports, cheerleaders, and allies in their online activity just as you are offline.
- Be an ask-able parent. From an early age, treat every topic like a welcome topic. Make “I’m glad you asked me” and “I’m so glad you brought that up” two parenting mantras. If your kids feel like there are topics that are off-limits with Mom or Dad, they’ll take their questions elsewhere, and the #1 embarrassment-free, always-available, never-shaming go-to in the digital age is the Internet. Like it or not, “What’s oral sex?” is a question you want your kids to bring to you, not Siri..
- Be curious about your kids’ on-line lives. We wonder how our kid’s Algebra exam went, how soccer’s going, and whose house they’re spending the night at on Friday. We should be just as curious and just as involved in the who, what, where, and how of their on-line activity. I’m not primarily talking about policing their online activity as I am about being a part of their online activity.Think about something your kid loves to do and imagine how they’d respond if you only criticized or nagged them about that area of their life. Eventually, they’d learn to stop inviting you to their games, showing you their poetry, or telling you about their latest crush. The same principle is true online. Aim to be your kids’ biggest supports, cheerleaders, and allies in their online activity just as you are offline.
- Teach your kids how to regulate their emotions. What does this have to do with technology? First, we’re living in a culture that teaches us to take difficult emotions to our devices instead of feeling and dealing with them in healthy ways. Second, a growing body of research links tech use with growing rates of anxiety and depression. Teaching your kids how to regulate human emotion will pay huge dividends throughout their lives.
- Make the goal of your instruction love. There are Jesus-loving, kid-passionate parents who fall across a wide spectrum as far as the specific tools, rules, boundaries, and strategies they employ with their kids. But the best of these have one thing in common: They’re not parenting out of fear but out of love. What’s more, they’re not teaching their kids to fear but to love. The online world isn’t going away. Whatever you do, make “the goal of [your] instruction love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Peter 1:5).
We’d love to hear from you! Which of the above tips do you want to do more of in your parenting? What additional tips would you include on this list?