As parents, our job is to teach our children to be productive citizens in the world, to impart our values and to keep them safe. Most of us know that this job applies to the world we grew up in, the offline world, but sometimes we forget that many everyday parenting lessons also apply to the online world. Below are recommendations I share with parents when I give talks at schools.
1. The most important thing every adult who wants to show children adaptive ways to behave with this virtual medium can do is to model good behavior. This means think about your media use, and what your children see you doing. So think about it next time you parent and text at the same time. They are watching and learning from us all of the time.
2. Find times when the whole family has no devices -- dinner table, walks to school, hikes, sport games, the most important thing is that they learn there are times that are screen free -- and that it is essential to build these into our day... Of course it's challenging because many adults use devices for their work, but by having a device-free time, you are showing children that family time and face-to-face time are to be valued.
3. Pick your battles. If you don't want your teens to unfriend you, don't ask about every transgression and let a few things slide. If you question or complain about every media habit you don't approve of, they will tune out. Try actually saying a few positive things a day about their media use. Then maybe they won't roll their eyes next time you tell them to take a break.
4. Live where they live. Remember, it's not just about social media... it's also about what they're watching and reading and listening to. Check the ratings (Common Sense Media is an amazing source for comprehensive information) or ask them to check the ratings; if you let them watch something a bit ahead of their time, watch it with them, and ask them to talk to you about it so you can learn how they are processing the messages.
5. Look for teachable moments in the real world. In other words, you can use things that happen in real life to create stories that may resonate for teens. Bring them up in conversation, not when you are lecturing them on something they did wrong. Often kids' ears will perk up when they hear these stories. I knew my kids were listening when they took the stories I told them and used them in their current event updates at school.
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