I recently came across an article on parenting in this new age of tech. In short, it detailed the digital world our kids have always known – a place where anything and everything can be googled, a finger swipe moves you from here to there, and selfies and smart phone pics happen daily.
To say my own childhood was different is an understatement. I had my first cell phone at 17 – a trusty “brick” phone for car emergencies only. I secured an AOL account in college. And when I needed to find an answer, I often turned to books – actual, physical books – in the library. How did I survive?
Of course I’m now fully engrossed in all things digital. As a marketer, communications consultant and human being trying to manage life, I have to be. I Facebook, Instagram and Tweet. I google, shop online and blog. As new tech emerges, I learn it quickly, and I often attend conferences addressing how tech and social shape all we do.
I’m on it, but it doesn’t mean I fully understand how to navigate this space as a parent. And this is the digital challenge that freaks me out. BIG TIME.
When will my kid be ready for his first phone? Sixth grade? Junior High? High School?
When will I allow him to have his own social profiles? At 10, he’s already bugging me for an Instagram account. I’m sure SnapChat requests are not far behind.
And what is it with the iMessaging? Boys chime back and forth in incoherent streams of words and symbols. Am I crippling all of his communication skills before he even hits high school?
What about the younger kids?
Is it OK for my four-year-old to play with the iPad?
Is my seven-year-old already addicted to his iTouch? Both already know how to make their own videos and believe they are the next YouTube stars.
I’m exaggerating … a little. But where the hell is my playbook? I can’t ask my own parents what they did. I’m charting this parenting digital course for the first time.
We certainly have screen limits in our household, and we’ve locked down WiFi to control new app loads. Still, there is no denying my kids are creating digital footprints long before I ever did, which means we are sailing unchartered waters.
While there are advantages to growing up with everything at your fingertips, I cringe at the adolescent years approaching. Kids are cruel online. They post hurtful commentary. They share inappropriate content. And even if they aren’t posting it, a quick digital pic in a compromising moment can take them down.
It’s easy to bully from behind a screen, and it’s hurtful to watch young love play out and then falter on social platforms. And then of course social has created this need to orchestrate your personal brand. Teens want to show the perfect selfie, the hip shots from the weekend, the witty commentary on pop culture.
Some parents are allowing their kids to embrace all things digital in elementary school, others are holding out for as long as possible. I suppose each child is different and there is no “right” age for all, but we are all navigating this space blind. Only years from now will we really understand the long-term impacts of raising a kid in a digital world.
Until then, I guess we just need to go with our guts, research what we can and be OK with saying “No” and pulling the tech back, if needed. Compare notes with other parents. Check sites like Common Sense Media. And most importantly, know what your kid is doing online.