How To Be a Better Parent In Your Child’s Online World
There’s no question that growing up in today’s world is nothing like growing up over the past few decades. Obviously, computers and technology make a childhood of today nothing at all like a childhood of the last few decades. Instead of radio shows, kids have streaming movies on Netflix . Instead of drive-in theaters, kids have 3D cinema with digital surround-sound. Instead of ham radios, kids have mobile apps .
You’ll find plenty of people lamenting about how wonderful childhood was back then. They’ll talk about memories of playing football or street hockey with neighborhood friends, or making up a make-believe war with friends using sticks as guns and pine-cones as hand-grenades. Maybe in your part of the world, childhood has evolved in similar ways, and most older folks look at the kids of today – with their high-tech gadgetry and conveniences – with disdain.
But is that really fair? I was very much an 80’s and 90’s kid, so my own childhood was sort of in the very beginning of that evolution into a technological society. Most of us 80’s kids knew this – it could be seen in the imagined futures of all of our movies like Back to the Future and Lawnmower Man. The children of my generation played pixelated video games on Atari game consoles, but dreamed of a world with realistic graphics and wireless communications. In fact, those of us of that generation are the parents of today – and we watch our kids enjoying the sort of childhood that many of us could only dream of.
Taking Part In Your Child’s Online World
So why lament the technology and the conveniences? The fact is, these are things that are here to stay. Tweeting, Facebooking and Googling are verbs that are a part of our global culture. Kids are plugged into the net. They’re voice chatting with friends across the world while playing massive online games. They’re instantly sharing photos on services like Instagram , in ways that photographers never would have imagined a couple of decades ago.
It’s a new world that we live in, and parents can either stay in denial and try to fight it, or be a better parent and embrace this new reality and become involved with it alongside your kids. Because in all honesty, there’s a whole lot of joy, fun and relationship-building that can come from actively showing interest int he things that your kids are interested in.
Show Interest In Their Online Success
I have to be honest, I didn’t think up this one on my own. My own father taught me the importance of being involved in the things that your child does online. When I started my own blog and struggled through the first few years of long nights trying to post every day on my own, my first fan was my father. He was there from day one, liking every post on my blog. And then, when I launched the Facebook page to promote my blog, there my father was on Facebook, liking every Facebook post.
So, when I recently learned that my daughter was creating her own digital artwork on the Internet, you can imagine my reaction. Sure, she’s great with a pen and paper, but to see what she’s capable of at such a young age in the digital domain – it makes me very proud as a father, and I want her to know that.
So, like my own dad’s example, I will leave comments on her photos – encouraging her and complimenting her. And of course, I’ll share it on my own Facebook wall, making sure she understands just how proud I am of her creativity.
Sure, this isn’t anything like the world used to be, when kids used to make simple drawings on paper, and hand it to mom or dad with an expectant smile. But, you know what? This new method of sharing creativity is even better. Now, the world can see this young, beautiful mind, and as a parent, you have the opportunity to make sure the world knows just how proud you are of your child.
Challenge Them With Brain Games
When it comes to playing online games, you can fight the losing battle that too many parents try to fight – cutting back on gaming time and constantly nagging your kids to get off the Internet. Or you can suggest doing an online activity with your child. After all, if that’s where they want to be, why not meet them there?
If you find yourself sitting in a home where everyone is on their own computer, isolated in their own rooms, why not send them a text chat and invite them to a game of online chess at a site like ChessFriends?
My daughter and I have always loved playing chess together – on a real board – but you know what, when I’m away from home on a business trip, what better way for us to have some fun? Most of these online game sites have a chat area where you can shoot the breeze and talk about the day at school with them during the ongoing game. It’s a wonderful, low-pressure way of building that relationship, even when your kids are online and seemingly “isolated” from the real world.
Another great online activity that I like to play with my younger daughter – who loves to read and likes everything about words – is Words With Friends on Facebook.
Just like the chess game, we can spend time together no matter where I am or where she is – and with the chat window available we can poke fun at each other during the game.
Again – it’s not so much that these are what we would consider the perfect ways to bond with our kids. However, the reality is that the kids of today are Internet kids. They were on the computer playing toddler games at 3 years old. They were reading stories on the laptop nearly as soon as they knew how to read. Since the Internet is such an integral part of their lives, and probably will be into the foreseeable future, why not become an integral part of that online life as their parent?
It will only be good for you once they have to leave home and head off to college, because guess what – that online game of Words With Friends will be a powerful way for you to reconnect, even when they aren’t home anymore.
Playing Console Games
I think that family game-playing is much more mainstream today than it ever was before the advent of consoles like the Wii. The Wii really introduced the idea of bringing family “game night” over to the television set and making it electronic rather than using a game board.
The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with that. Electronic is the way kids like it these days, so if you can join them in a friendly game of Super Mario 3D Land and make it a fun night of bonding and fun – only good can come out of that.
There is nothing as amazing as hearing your kids laugh or watching them smile as you trash talk with them during a high-energy game of Mario Kart. Seriously – give it a try and just see if it doesn’t bring a bit of laughter and strengthen your relationship with your kids. Don’t be a staunchly old anti-tech parent – join your kids and show them you know how to have a great time.
Embrace Their Online Social Life
As your kids get old enough to get on Facebook – making sure that they friend you (and that they don’t block you from seeing their posts) is a great way to monitor their online activity in a non-intrusive way.
Better yet, it gives you the opportunity to interact with them. They may mumble and not tell you what their day was like at school during supper – but I bet you can get them to joke around with you or open up on their Facebook wall!
Of course, do this sparingly. Follow the rules of Facebook etiquette and don’t overwhelm them with your input after every single post. They’ll get sick of you and start blocking you after a while (who could blame them?)
It’s better to post sparingly. Be positive about the things they post and the jokes or pictures they share. Make them look forward to your replies. The fact is, this is what part of a parent-child relationship looks like these days. You can ignore it and never be a part of it – or you can embrace it and be fully a part of their online life. Trust me – you’re better off being involved.
Online Groups & Pages
If they go so far as to actually establish a community online, like their own Facebook group or their own blog, by all means be a catalyst of encouragement. Make the know that you’re proud of their efforts to build the online community and to connect with friends and family in this way. By becoming a part of their community yourself, you’re showing them not only that you care, but that you’re interested in what they’re interested in.
To my surprise, my daughter launched her own “Technology” group on Facebook – to talk about the latest advancements in electronics and computers. You better believe I was one of her first members.
This obviously isn’t everything there is about a parent-child relationship. I would never suggest that any of the above should replace personal, one-on-one, in-person discussions and bonding. However, when the time comes (and in inevitably will), when people gravitate to their own spaces and log onto those computers, wouldn’t it be nice to know that you can still connect with your child even when they do have their eyes glued to the computer screen?
It’s the world we live in today, and there’s nothing wrong with that. As a parent, embracing it and finding the joy in it can go a long way toward building and maintaining a strong relationship with your son or daughter for many years to come.
Are you involved in your child’s online life? If not, are you open to trying it in order to be a better parent? Share your own creative ideas and your opinions in the comments section below!
Image Credit: Father and Daughter Using Laptop via Shutterstock