Many parents think of the offline world and online world as two separate entities. But for kids today, the online world and offline world are one and the same. The online world becomes part of our children’s world as soon as they go online. It’s a vast online universe with more than 600 million websites where kids can see and engage with anyone and anything.
There are many risks when kids go online. The scariest for parents is online predators. Other risks that parents worry about are their children’s social networking activity, accessing inappropriate websites, video chatting with strangers, cyberbullying, sexting and online reputation. Some risks that parents may not think about but should are sleep deprivation as the result of kids using their computer or cellphone when parents think they’re sleeping, or not getting their homework done because they are chatting on Facebook, playing a game or watching a YouTube video.
Just as parents pay attention to their children’s behavior in the offline world, parents need to pay attention to their children’s behavior in the online world. When kids are playing outside, Mom takes a look out the kitchen window to make sure everything’s OK. If everything is OK Mom goes back to work. If she notices Susie hitting Jack over the head with a stick, she goes outside to have a conversation with Susie about appropriate behavior.
When most kids play outside, they are well aware that a parent is going to check. That’s what good parents do. Kids know that the reason their Mom or Dad is checking is because they care about them, they want to keep them safe and they want to teach them appropriate behavior.
If those same children noticed that their parents never checked on them, that they were allowed to do whatever they wanted, and then all of a sudden when they’re older tweens or teens their parents decided to start checking on their behavior, the older children would push back--and reasonably so. In the online world, this is also true. Parents can’t let their kids go online unsupervised when they’re young and then all of a sudden start parenting online when kids are older tweens and teens. Kids will resent this radical change in parenting style and feel like their privacy is being invaded and their freedom jeopardized.
Parents need to begin integrating the same offline parenting skills to the online world as soon as kids go online to prevent push-back later, and so that kids understand that checking in on their online behavior is as natural a part of parenting as checking on them when they’re playing outside. When parents integrate this parenting style of checking in on behavior early, there won’t be push-back or questions about why it’s happening as kids get older. Kids then know what to expect and there are no surprises.
Parents know what their kids are watching on television and change the channel if it’s deemed unacceptable. Parents know who their kids are hanging out with offline. In the offline world, parents who allow their children to do what ever they want unsupervised are considered negligent. Not checking in on online behavior is today’s version of parental negligence. My advice to parents is that they should begin monitoring their children’s online activity as soon as they go online.
When kids are little, ages 3 to 10, this means monitoring all of their activity and behavior online. As kids get older and demonstrate that they have learned what is appropriate online behavior and that they can follow a code of conduct online that includes internet safety rules then monitoring means checking in less frequently. This is usually appropriate for kids aged 11 to 17.
Every child is different. Some are saluters, which means they always follow the rules and seemingly salute their parents. Other children are more mischievous, head-strong, independent and rebellious. Parents know their own kids’ behavior and should trust their instincts when it comes to each of their children and monitor accordingly.