Chances are good that if you’re reading this as a parent, then you didn’t have to deal with the complications, confusion and drama of online communication as a child. Ah, those blissful, quiet times, when Mommy’s phone wasn’t always beeping alerts and when school friends didn’t snub each other in favor of being glued to technology.
Nowadays, cell phones, computers, internet and email play a huge role in every aspect of our lives, and seem unavoidable as technology is now even adopted by schools and government organizations. If you decide to hold off on getting your children a cell phone, there’s pressure from other kids at school who have one already. If you tell your kids they can’t bring the tablet into the restaurant, there will be a table next to you full of people who are all on theirs.
Here are a few rules for teaching kids to cultivate healthy personal relationships in a high tech and fast paced modern world.
Guard against technology OCD. We are all prone to becoming obsessed with our technology. Whether it’s email alerts, compulsions to Google everything that enters our minds, losing sleep over a social media conversation gone wrong, or just the need to be constantly connected, everyone does it. Kids should be taught from an early age that these impulses should be guarded against, as they can negatively impact our relationships with real people who care about us. Too much technology can also stifle our urges to get out and experience real life through all five of our senses.
Eye contact and verbal acknowledgement go a long way. If someone interrupts you in the middle of texting, the right and respectful thing to do is look up and speak to them. Even if it’s only to say “I’ll be with you in two seconds, I just want to let Joanie know we’ll be meeting them at 5.” This way, the real, live, in-the-flesh person with whom you’re speaking will have a sense that 1. they are important to you, and 2. that you care enough to update them on what you’re doing instead of leaving them guessing.
If you wouldn’t say it someone’s face, don’t say it on text. Any parent who hopes to raise kind and empathetic children would speak out against gossip or rumor spreading. This should extend to online communication such as via cell phone messages, email or social media, as well. Not only is it just bad policy to talk about people who aren’t there, but if someone were to forward your message in a moment of doubt you could be looking at a very awkward, hurtful and drama-fraught situation.
Online communication should be used to foster connection and understanding, not as a tool of manipulation. This includes pestering someone via text who has asked to be left alone, cyber bullying, peer pressure and other means of spreading negativity. Of course, under no circumstances is it ever appropriate to threaten another person, not in person and definitely not via text, email or social media.
Put a block on all inappropriate content, and locate your family computer in a public area of the house so that all internet activity can be monitored. Children should never be left to their own devices (no pun intended) when visiting websites, checking email or surfing Facebook or YouTube.
When in someone else’s house, abide by their rules for technology. So if you go over to a friend’s, and their mother tells you that you have one hour to enjoy some online games, then honor this policy, even if the rules at your house are different.
Moms and Dads, don’t be a tech hypocrite. If your kids are only allowed screen time at certain hours of the day, then apply the rule to yourself as well. Maybe the entire family can designate “online time” when everyone spends an hour or two checking messages, posting on social media, watching videos or playing online games.