A digital native is a person who was born during or after the general introduction of digital technologies and through interacting with digital technology from an early age, has a greater comfort level using it. These students may also be referred to as the “Net Generation” where their exposure to technology begins at birth.
Our tweens have never known a world without the internet, mobile phones and social media, it is almost inevitable that technology will be a part of our children’s lives whether we like it or not.
For many parents this is scary, unchartered territory.
When our children are little there is enough research to back up our plan to simply restrict technology of all kinds. When they are little all we have to worry about is the guilt associated with letting them binge on The Octonauts in exchange for a few moments of peace.
But what about when they get older?
How do we juggle the needs and interests of our children withing the big, bad world of technology? It is certainly the struggle of a new generation of parents as we learn all we need to know about parenting tweens.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot as my children have gotten older, more responsible and more interested in technology. Here are a few things I have learned that are helping me negotiate this new phase.
Tips for Navigating Tweens and Technology
It’s not all doom and gloom
We are told too much screen time rots their brains and is contributing to the obesity epidemic. We have to worry about cyber bullying now (as well as the regular kind). And let’s not even get started about the inappropriate things our kids could be accessing, or worse sharing, on the internet.
To many parents technology can feel like the arch enemy, but it’s not all doom and gloom. There are plenty of great things about technology and plenty of ways we can use it with our kids to make our lives better, even easier!
Let’s not get caught up in the negatives at the expense of the positives. There is good and bad to all things, including technology, so make sure you spend time showing your kids positive ways to interact with technology. Share the cool things it can do, they great things they can learn, and enjoy it with them.
With a little information and forethought we can navigate the world of technology as a parent, and teach our kids how to manage it too.
There is nothing that will make your tween roll their eyes faster than you not having a clue what you are talking about!
You need to educate yourself about the latest and greatest technology so you can make informed decisions about whether your kids are ready to use it, what the risks may be, and so you can talk to your kids about these issues.
If you hear your kids talking about ‘Snapchat’ but have no idea what it is, then find out. If you hear or see your kids use an acronym and you are not sure what it means, find out, Google it, ask other parents or older teenagers. Read up on how things work, what pitfalls or dangers there might be, and if you can, try it for yourself.
Make informed decisions about limits and guidelines, and educate yourself about how you can maintain these boundaries and keep your kids safe. There are lots of services, apps, software and tricks to help you manage – these will help you with managing time limits, limiting access online and more, Do a little research and find out what works for your family.
One other thing you need to educate yourself about… the dreaded “but all my friends have it!” What that means to your kids and what that means in reality may be two completely different things, so ask! Ask other parents if their children use certain technology, how often and how it is working out. You may discover that ‘everyone’ is actually just one other child.
Talk about it!
Now that you know what you are talking about… talk about it.
Take any opportunity you can to talk with your tweens about technology and how it impacts their lives.
- Talk about what age is appropriate to use each device or service.
- Talk about limits and guidelines.
- Talk about balance and why it is important.
- Talk about what is and isn’t safe or appropriate to share online.
- Talk about the long term ramifications of sharing or saying things online or via mobile phones.
- Talk about cyber bullying, and sexting and other ‘uncomfortable topics’.
- Talk about advertising, and movie ratings, what they mean and how they work.
- Talk about how much mobile phones cost, and who pays for them.
- Talk about when it is appropriate to use devices and when it isn’t.
- Talk about what they should do if they encounter anything they are not comfortable with.
Try to discuss this stuff as openly and honestly as you can. You won’t always see eye to eye with your kids on these subjects, but it is important to listen to their ideas too. Despite all of your Googling, you might just learn something new from your tweens! Your main goal should be to give your kids the information they need to make informed, responsible decisions for themselves when they are ready.
Talk to other parents too. This is a new era in parenting, our parents didn’t have this stuff to worry about, and research is still catching up in many of these areas, so your best source of advice and support is often other parents. Get together with the parents of your children’s friends and ask them how they handle things. Seek our friends who have older children and whose parenting style you admire and talk to them. The more information and experiences we share the better equipped we will be.
Supervise your tweens use of technology
Just as we supervise our toddlers with scissors or other risky activities, we need to supervise our tweens with technology. They are young, they are still learning to think ahead and consider all the possible consequences of their actions. They will make mistakes and you need to be there, to be supervising, so you can help them avoid those pitfalls, as well as learn from and fix any mistakes.
The issue of ‘privacy’ might come up when you tell your child that you will know their passwords and check their online activity regularly, but we are talking about the internet here… nothing you put on the internet is private, EVER. This is an important lesson to learn, from the very beginning.
The internet, mobile phones, video games, television and all the other kinds of technology are not going to go away. Banning your kids out right, or sticking your head in the sand and letting them do whatever they like, isn’t going to work long term. Now is the time to step up as parents to support your tween and teach them how to get the best from technology in a safe and responsible way.
A few of my favourite online resources for parenting and technology
What is working in your home when it comes to navigating technology with your tweens?