Responsible Parenting in the Digital World

The digital age we live in has had an astounding impact on society. We have unlimited access to information, we can effortlessly contact people across the world, share updates, communicate a message, start revolutions.

While all this still seems incredible to the majority of us, there is an entire generation that does not remember the world any other way.

The iGen

The iGen generation is anyone born between 1995 and 2012.[1] Consisting of 86.4 million children, teens, and young adults in the US, it is the most digitally connected and smartphone engaged generation.[2]

Born into a world where the internet is a fact of life, iGen’ers have no pre-Internet memories, and each entered, or will enter, adolescence in the age of the smartphone.

As a generation of smartphone natives, with often unrestricted access to the internet, they experience the countless benefits, but also the dangers, of a fully connected world.

Proper Parenting for Responsible Internet Use

Worrying about what your children are doing online is understandable, especially with the stories in the news about the horrors children endure by way of the internet. In a recent study,[3] roughly half of all students reported that they knew someone who had experienced cyberbullying, a sobering reminder of what happens when children fail to follow proper online etiquette.

Enacting rules for when your child can use a tablet or smartphone, and postponing the age at which they start using social media is a good way for you to limit your child’s exposure to harmful content. These precautions work to an extent, but for parents to think they can prevent their children from coming in contact with all the dangers of the internet is impractical and often harmful to their relationships.[4]

After hearing the countless heartbreaking stories of children becoming victims of the influence of the internet, it may be tempting to outright ban the use of smartphones and other mobile devices in your household. To entirely restrict your child’s online access, however, would be counterproductive. As a parent, there must be a certain level of trust. Just like when a child leaves the house, a parent can not always be by their side to prevent them from misbehaving.

Through proper education, trust is built between a parent and child. An understanding of how a child should conduct themselves outside the home and without the direct influence of a parent needs to be shaped. It is the responsibility of a parent to ensure this trust is carried over to online behavior — create expectations of proper etiquette through your parenting.

The digital world is here to stay and being effective with such a powerful tool is important for a child’s development and their future. In fact, recent studies have found that “moderate use of digital technology is not intrinsically harmful and may be advantageous in a connected world,”[5] While the keyword in this conclusion is moderate, there is no doubt that when used correctly, iGen’ers can learn to be effective and responsible online.

The key to successfully educating your child is balance and understanding. Much of the communication between peers today is done with smartphone applications. When asked why, a large portion of teens tended to stress issues related to connectivity and connection with others. Some 40% of these respondents said that social media has had a positive impact because it helps them keep in touch and interact with others.[6]

To completely remove your child’s access to the internet could impact their ability to communicate with friends, but to give them too much internet access could be harmful to their mental state and development.[7]

Instead of excessively controlling your child’s use of the Internet, approaching the problem through cooperation and guidance would be more worthwhile.

Some recommended ways to engage your child about responsibly using their online time is to:

  1. Create an Online Family Media Plan.[8]
  2. Ensure that your children and teens are getting at least one hour of physical activity per day.
  3. Enforce 8–12 hours of sleep every day. No devices in the bedroom and no screen time 1 hour before going to bed. Phones and tablets are plugged in at night in the kitchen or bathroom, not in the bedroom.
  4. Openly discuss the dangers of the digital world with your kids. When they finish using their smartphone or computer, ask them about what they were doing, but do not interrogate.
  5. Plan out media-free times and locations, these are the times for positive parent-child interaction. This time goes for parents as well.
  6. Ensure quality online time vs. quantity. Encourage your child to consume content that helps develop skills or learn new things.

Educating iGen’ers to safely use the internet and their smartphones is not entirely straightforward. In order to prepare for this task, parents and teachers need to educate themselves on appropriate online behavior. It is the responsibility of parents and teachers to work with children and guide them to be better digital citizens in the digital age.

Your Child and Their Digital Citizenship

The term digital citizen is defined as any person that effectively utilizes the internet to learn, communicate, and collaborate with other digital citizens.

One of the most important lessons a parent can teach a child in regards to their online etiquette is: with the unprecedented power of the digital world, responsible and appropriate behavior is key to successfully taking advantage of the benefits it offers.

Most iGen’ers spend much of their day consuming web content on their smartphones and tablets. In fact, the internet is so prevalent in the everyday life of iGen’ers that recent studies determined this generation of teenagers and children spends nearly 9 hours a day online.[9] Another study concluded that 24 percent of teens say they are online “almost constantly.”[10]

During these hours of use, it is important for your child to be mindful of what they do and say to other digital citizens.

A parent should teach a child that online actions can have real-world consequences. While to an adult it may seem obvious, to a child the internet offers an illusion of privacy and anonymity, cutting them off from the emotions of others. It makes things like abuse and bullying easier by effectively removing exchanges of human sympathy and the face-to-face aspect of communication.

Communicate with your child. Educate them about being responsible for their online choices. Teaching them what they do on the web can have real impacts on their life and the lives of others is key for them to understand the power of the internet goes beyond their screens.

Where to go from here

The purpose of this growing collection of articles is to examine the benefits and the dangers of the internet, as well as the effects they may have on your child’s mind and their daily life. Consult these articles for advice on how to help your digital citizen stay safe in a digital world.

Your Child and Their Digital Citizenship

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