What do we do as parents when our young kids face a new or daunting experience, like crossing a busy street? We hold their hand, tell them to look both ways and walk with them from one side of the street to the other.
Parents everywhere do this. And we repeat this over and over until our little one is ready to navigate this experience on their own (and maybe even longer just to be sure!). In these moments we act as their guide, safe harbor and teacher.
What we don’t do is let our young kids 1) wander into the street alone, 2) expect them to figure it out on their own and 3) hope it works out. This is true even if our child is really adept and takes to crossing the street faster than we ever did. That would be, well, ridiculously unsafe. Right?
The same is true for our kids’ online experiences.
They still need us to be their guide, safe harbor and teacher during screen time, even if they already are really adept or advanced when it comes to apps, games and devices. Just like cars on a busy street, there are common dangers online that we want our kids to be aware of from a young age and avoid safely.
All parents need to do is apply this same “hand holding” mindset to new online experiences. We know that young kids will eventually be spending a lot more time online throughout their childhood and adolescence. Here are 3 ways any parent can hold their child’s hand through new experiences in the digital age:
Spend time together, online
A parent spending time or joining in on an experience with their kids is a good thing. Today, these moments could include playing at the park or enjoying (or, let’s be honest, pretending to enjoy) an age appropriate site, app or game alongside our children. Online or offline, this is about furthering a connection between parent and child.
For parents, this gets us familiar with what our littles are experiencing online and helps us have a deeper understanding of what age-appropriate content looks like in the digital age.
For kids, they become accustomed to their parents being part of their online experiences, as opposed to a separate thing their parents aren’t part of or that they do in private. Plus, this lays a foundation for kids to come to us when they experience a challenge online, because we’ve always been involved in this part of their lives.
Digital Teaching Moments: To Click or Not To Click
Kids still need guidance during screen time, and the values and life skills parents deliver need to make sense in online spaces too. Showing them the difference between clicking on something safe (like in their age appropriate app) and something only for grownups online (like an ad or pop up) will help them better understand online boundaries.
For parents, dispensing tech-savvy advice like this establishes them as the authority in their kids’ lives, whether they are spending time online or offline. For kids, this will help prevent them from accidentally stumbling across something they’re not developmentally ready for.
When handing a device over to a child, parents usually set ground rules. Kids are often told they can only use a certain app or visit a specific site, and not anywhere else. This should sound familiar. Parents often tell kids not to leave the front yard or wander off if they’re playing outside or at the park. Well, we don’t want them wandering off online either. That’s where App Pinning comes in handy.
Available on Android and Apple devices, parents can lock apps in a way that prevents kids from “wandering off.” For example, if they are handed a phone with the PBS app open and pinned, kids can’t close it or open a new app. They are stuck in the PBS app and only the parent can unlock the app.
For parents, this again establishes them as the authority in their kids’ online lives and draws a clear line for their kids. For kids, this demonstrates that boundaries and rules still apply during screen time, and there aren’t different sets of rules for how we behave or act online (like getting to view grownup content, for example).