Seek to Understand Your Kids
There’s a digital divide.
On one side of the divide stand parents who view the world through analog glasses. These parents lament days of beepers and answering machines. Their rebukes toward children often include statements that begin with, “When I was a kid…” They wish for a world that’s as safe as the one they remember from their childhood, when hoards of children roamed the neighborhood from dawn to midnight, unmonitored, dancing through sprinklers, and riding bikes down the middle of the street. [At least that’s what they remember]
On the other side stand kids. Digital natives. Unafraid of sharing their every wish, hope, and dream with a kid from Russia who just happens to like the same online game that they do. These kids feel a strange, body-part-like attachment to their internet-ready devices. They also seek safety, and although they are connected to hoards of children from all edges of the earth, they still feel strangely alone and long for deep connection. [Even if they don’t know how to express it]
We have so much to learn from each other.
At Protect Young Eyes, we poke and prod parents to open up their mouths and talk to their kids about technology. Don’t bubble wrap your kids from tech! Show them how. Do it with them. Protect them from places they aren’t ready for and explain why. Right kid, right tech, right time. All the time.
Recently, we had the chance to ask students at a Christian high school this question:
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WISH PARENTS UNDERSTOOD BETTER ABOUT HOW YOU USE TECHNOLOGY?
We received over a hundred responses, but they could be grouped into 5-6 categories of answers, which we want to show you below.
^^ The, “I use my phone to deal with anxiety” category. Mom and dad, how do you handle stress? We live in a world full of pressures. Grades. College. Status. Achievements. Have you talked to your child about stress and anxiety? What things worry your child?
^^ The, “Mom and dad, you can’t have it both ways,” category. Remember, you gave them this device because you wanted to know their every movement, everywhere. A similar statement goes, “you don’t want me on it all the time, but if I don’t reply to your text in 10 seconds, you put my face on a milk jug and assume I’ve been abducted by aliens.”
Oh, adults, while we’re here, go ahead and add up the number of hours you were on your device last week. Think about the places you clicked. The videos you watched. Are you modeling the right digital behaviors? Or, do tech rules only apply to those under 18 in your home? [Yea, I’m poking there!]
^^ The, “You can’t put me in a plastic hamster ball and keep me away from technology” category. Again, we believe strongly in right kid, right tech, right time, because not all kids are ready for digital playgrounds at the same time. But, even if your kid isn’t ready for [fill in the blank social media platform], have you talked to him or her about what they might find if they use it? Do you really think you can control every digital doorway that your child has access to?
In other words, not all kids are ready for social media at age 13, but even if your teen doesn’t have social media, have you talked to them about social media?
[Wonder if you kid is ready for social media? We’ve done a lot of research: What’s the Right Age to Give my Kid Social Media?]
^^ The, “Video games help me cope with life,” category. Parents, I have a whole stack of cards that say this in various forms, from both guys and girls. I’m not saying kids should be allowed to avoid dealing real life, but in the same way that you jump full-on into a romantic novel to escape from certain aspects of life, they’re doing the same thing with video games.
^^ The, “Quit assuming every teen on a smartphone is sending nudes, looking at porn, bullying a kid, and plotting mass destruction on the dark web.” We show this notecard during our high school presentations and you should see the head nods and hear the “Amens!” (even in public schools). Adults, check your judgment. Even if you don’t say it, they can sense it. A teen can smell your silent lack of approval from across the room.
Be Curious Instead of Condemning
If you want to learn about what’s important to an adult, then take a look at where he/she spends time and money.
If you want to learn about what’s important to a teen. Their deep questions. Their silent wonderings. Then, take a look at where they click and understand why they click there.
Like most things in life, we seek balance. We’re not advocating for kids to spend six hours a day on devices just to deal with stress. But we need to quit assuming that all screen time is turning their brains into the fried eggs we [analog parents] remember from the “brain on drugs” commercials.
We encourage parents to ask a lot of questions. Ask them to teach you things. Show you things. Be genuinely interested in their online life. We bet you’ll learn a bunch of new things about your child.
Chris McKenna, Founder: A man with never ending energy when it comes to fighting for the safety and protection of children. Chris practices his internet safety tips on his four amazing children and is regularly featured on news, radio, and podcasts for his research. His 2019 US Senate Judiciary Committee testimony was the catalyst for draft legislation and on-going discussion that could radically change online child protection laws and earned PYE the NCOSE Dignity Defense Alert Award in 2020. The PYE team has performed over 1,300 presentations at schools, churches, and nonprofits and was featured in the Childhood 2.0 movie. When not leading PYE, Chris is the Digital Marketing Manager for Covenant Eyes. Other loves include running, spreadsheets, nature, and candy.