Our kids’ use of technology is evolving at a dizzying pace. We all feel varying degrees of uncertainty about what it all means and how to effectively manage it. In this blog post I will list 10 teaching points to share with your kids and teens regarding texting and internet communications.
I’d like to share two important caveats before I get to the teaching points. First, we all do well to begin such conversations with our kid or teen by first asking for his or her perspective, providing empathy and agreement when that’s appropriate. Moreover, we also do well to use question and discussion methods before going into lecture mode. Second, the suggestions below are founded on the assumption that your monitoring protocol for your kid’s or teen’s use of technology is age-appropriate and on board; you can find monitoring guidelines throughout this blog site and my parenting book. Those caveats aside, here are the 10 suggestions:
1. Don’t post or type anything you wouldn’t want read on the school intercom. (This can be a tough sell for a kid who believes that a given friend is 100% trustworthy and will remain so forever.) This guideline goes double for posting on social networking sites. It can be especially useful to point out to teens that social networking posts are OFTEN perused by college admissions personnel, prospective coaches and prospective employers. Providing examples of people being burned can help.
2. Try to avoid texting or posting when angry or hurt. We all experience transient brain dysfunction when feeling painful emotions (you probably won’t have to go too far back in time to provide examples of your own lapses). It’s best to introduce a pause when possible.
3. Avoid hiding behind anonymity to trash another person, no matter how much it may be deserved. You merely need to visit the comments section of online newspaper articles to find examples of this to illustrate to your progeny. Even young kids can often appreciate how this comes across.
4. Avoid responding in kind to insults or other kinds of hurtful communications. You can ask your kid things like: “what are some good ways to put out a fire?” “What are some ways to make a fire grow?” You can also ask your child or teen imagines how others might view such responses.
5. Teach your kids that certain kinds of communications are best done orally and/or in person. You’ve probably noticed that many kids eschew phone calls and prefer to text just about all communications with their peers. You can stress that your kid maintains more control over oral communications than written ones. Again, examples of people being burned can help make this point.
6. Teach your kids that sensitive communications can be easily misunderstood when written. Kids may not be aware of all the additional information that is shared through oral or in-person communications.
7. Be extremely cautious about sharing or posting pictures of others without first getting their permission. What one person thinks of as an innocent picture can be mortifying to another. This would also be a place to review the problems, legal and otherwise, with sexting and/or sharing nude pictures.
8. Try to avoid writing things about others that you wouldn’t want them to read. Again, examples of this going bad for a person can help.
10. Encourage your child or teen to let you know if s/he experiences electronic bullying or becomes aware of another kid experiencing it. Victims of these behaviors can sometimes spiral downwards in tragic ways. If your kid(s) take you up on this, get some expert consultation regarding how to proceed (e.g., a good child psychologist). For a referral click here.
Good luck, my fellow parent!