Parenting today is complicated. The digital world has left many floundering, as they try filter out the noise, in order to decide what is right for their family.
They face concerns about their child's use of devices, about online bullying, grooming and predators, about damaged reputations and digital footprints, about sexting and inappropriate content, and about time wasting and addiction. Yes, there are lots of things we want our kids to know.
There are however, a few things our kids wish we knew too. If we are to help them safely navigate this world, whilst maintaining a solid connection with them and a harmonious family life, then it may serve us well to take a listen.
1. This is the only world we have known
Parents today often refer to the offline world and the online world, and we constantly differentiate between the digital and the real life. But for our kids, this is all one world. It is the only world they have ever known. Watching people with phones in their hands, checking on them regularly, using them for work, information, entertainment and socialisation is all they have ever seen. Are we showing them in any way what life was like before that? Or are they just replicating the world as they see it?
2. We still like to play outside, to run, to jump and to explore
We often hear the older generations lamenting the fact that kids don't play outside anymore. That they would rather be stuck on devices than out in the fresh air. A good portion of this belief is true. But. If we give them the opportunities, if we make a conscious effort to make the outdoors and activity a part of their lives, then they will take it up and they will enjoy it. Go to any campsite or caravan park and you will see kids riding bikes, fishing, swimming, running and playing. Go to any local playground and you will see kids kicking a ball or swinging on a swing. Exposing kids to active play and making it a part of your family culture will encourage their innate desires. We may have to do a little prodding, but give them the opportunities and they will run with it.
3. We do think about privacy, just differently to you
Privacy is tricky for kids. Despite what we think, they are often trying to be private in a very public world. They may have hundreds of followers, but very often they are only thinking about a few when they post a status update. They want to have a private space to hang out with their mates, just as we did when we were kids. Only that space is now very public. And sometimes they want us to know that every interaction they have online is not potentially bad, they just don't need you listening in. Just as we didn't need mum sitting at the end of our bed when we had friends over to play. They do think about privacy therefore, they just have to work much harder if they want to maintain any control.
4. We are not always wasting our time online
Despite our protestations about whiling away copious hours surfing the net, watching funny Youtube videos and texting their mates, there are some truly great things kids are achieving with technology. They are making and editing movies in iMovie, they are composing musical scores in Garageband and they are creating virtual cities, problem solving and analysing resources in Minecraft. They are being exposed to the many and varied social issues around the globe and they are seeing how people are making a change. They are even looking at ways to make changes to the world themselves. These are the things we need to nurture and encourage.
5. Just because we like playing video games, doesn't mean we are addicted
Many kids love playing video games. They enjoy the social and emotional benefits of connection and community, of the chance to unwind and to release any stress from their day. They also enjoy the cognitive benefits of playing games as they develop the likes of spatial awareness and hand eye coordination. They also see video games as simply something fun to do. Most children are able to participate in game playing whilst still enjoying a balance with the many other elements of their lives. If they are still engaging with family and friends, if they are still participating in activities they have always enjoyed, getting homework done, getting enough food and sleep and recognising some boundaries, then they just may well be relishing in a hobby they love.
Of course we need to find that balance between what our kids want us to know and what we as the relatively wise and experienced parent thinks is right for our children. So next time you make a comment about your child's use of technology and the online world, remember to take a moment to gain some perspective and maybe ask yourself this, "Just what would I be like, if I was a child growing up today?"