Put a mobile device in the hands of just about any toddler, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how easily children, even very small ones, take to digital media. Watching a school-aged child whip through online content is equally dumbfounding. There’s a very good reason why the term “digital native” is applied to them. However, as we’ve often seen, being comfortable with technology does not equal knowing how to use it properly, effectively, and most importantly, safely.
Setting rules for use, including when, where, what and for how long is both appropriate and necessary, but is it enough to help digital natives really understand the virtual aspects of their lives? Are there ways to explore the peaks and pitfalls of life online that accomplish more than just setting rules? Can parents and educators use discussions of new media and technology as teachable moments for critical thinking skill development?
No, yes, and a resounding yes. This isn’t to say that children shouldn’t be given limits and guidelines for their time online, but digging a little deeper into the “why” of their relationship to technology can help them grow up to be more conscientious consumers of it.
Here are five questions to ask your kids:
- Should you believe everything you see, hear and read on the internet? How do you know what’s true and what isn’t?
- Is the profile someone creates on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites the real them? What’s the difference between knowing someone online and knowing them in person?
- What kinds of things are okay to share online, and what kinds of things should be private? What kinds of things should we know about other people, and what do we really want them to know about us?
- Should everyone be allowed to say whatever they want online? Should there be rules for being polite online, just as there are in person?
- Who decides what information people see online? Are they the right person to decide, or is there a way to be more fair about it?
As is the case with all big questions, be patient, really listen to what your little thinker has to say, and avoid answering questions with “just because” or “because I said so”. Don’t be afraid to peel back the curtain and let your child see what’s behind it (within reason, of course). Ask them to help you set rules and guidelines for appropriate conduct, and make sure you yourself stick to them as well. Not only will they have a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding life online, but they may actually give you less of a hassle when it’s time to switch off, unplug, and return to the analog side of life.
Here’s to helping our digital natives really learn to navigate the territory!