By Rachael Abrams, LCSW-C
Jewish Community Services
Technology is a tricky thing. It is supposed to make our lives easier and in many ways it does. We can easily stay in touch with family who live out of town. We can pay multiple bills with the click of a button.
But with all of the advancement that technology brings us, it can simultaneously create complexity in our lives, generating more demands and even set up the potential for trouble. Adults generally understand that with the good often comes the bad, but for children, this can be a harder lesson to learn.
Richard Guerry, director of the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication, firmly believes that we need to better educate our children on the importance of digital accountability and responsibility BEFORE they get the latest gadget on the market. Just as we provide drivers’ education and teach children about strangers, we have to help our kids navigate our technologically driven world.
Guerry uses the phrase “Public and Permanent” to demonstrate that anything emailed, texted and posted electronically is available for anyone to see, and it exists FOREVER. He hopes this philosophy will help kids think twice before sending off a hurtful text, inappropriate picture or compromising post. By better preparing our kids, we can help them avoid making digital mistakes that could have a detrimental impact on their lives.
How do we help our kids understand the risks? This can prove difficult, because even if they are willing to discuss this topic, we as parents are two steps behind the latest technology, gadgets, sites and apps. Our kids have already moved on to something else.
Nevertheless, we can still warn them of risks associated with technology use in today’s world.
- Information Can Go Viral: Harassment and bullying can digitally skyrocket out of control because perpetrators can hide behind emails, texts and alternate screen names. Children should recognize actions that are considered bullying and know who they can talk to if they feel victimized.
- Anything posted digitally is a reflection of the person who posts it. Once you put something in cyberspace, you may be saying more about yourself than you intended to reveal.
- Everything that you post is permanent. Negative information can be hard to erase and can affect one’s reputation. Even if you think you’ve deleted unflattering information, it is easily stored, copied or forwarded for anyone else to use.
- Private information needs to be kept private. Children need to consider what information they provide on line. Passwords, financial data and personal information should be stored carefully and only shared with legitimate parties. Many sites promote up to date privacy settings, and kids must understand how to use them. This is especially important for older kids using social media and younger kids playing online interactive games.
- There are often legal and financial risks associated with technology use. Children must understand that their actions, particularly when inappropriate, could end up having legal and financial ramifications that could permanently hurt them.
We shouldn’t take for granted that our kids understand these concepts or assume that someone else will teach it to them. It is our responsibility to educate our kids on the pros and cons of technology use. If you aren’t sure where to start, consider the following guidelines:
- Remind your children to use good judgment. Every action has a consequence that should be weighed beforehand.
- Explore the consequences of inappropriate technology use. Go online with your kids and explain where dangers are lurking. Just as young kids are taught not to speak to strangers in person, they should follow the same advice online. Additionally, kids should know not to respond to inappropriate or threatening messages/texts and to report them to a trusted adult.
- Spend some time understanding the technology your kids are using. Ask them to show you how the sites, apps and programs work. Have a conversation about problems that might arise.
- Explore online parental tools and filters for help managing your child’s technology usage. Consider keeping shared technology in a common area such as the kitchen or family room. In addition, set up rules for technology use and establish consequences for breaking the rules.
As parents, we want the best for our children, and we want to do our part to ensure that we are keeping them safe. While it might seem easier to restrict access to technological advances, we would end up doing a disservice to our kids. The best thing to do is to have age appropriate, educational and candid conversations about not only the beauty of technology but the level of responsibility that goes along with it.