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Raising Kids in the Instant Information Age
Raising Kids in the Instant Information Age
Yesterday morning, while cooking eggs for breakfast, my youngest walked in with an odd expression on her face. It looked to me as though she had seen a ghost, and it turned out I wasn’t too far off. She had been on YouTube and had managed to watch a video that featured footage of a young man that had taken his life by hanging. Now my daughter is 10; she had never seen anything like that, and it had shaken her. She didn’t set out with the intention of watching death videos, she didn't know those even existed. She was simply surfing the popular and trending videos on YouTube. Welcome to raising kids in the instant information age.
I did what any halfway ok parent would do. I sat her down and talked her through her feelings. I explained what she had seen and answered all of her questions. I held her when she cried for the man in the video. And I let her know that she did nothing wrong. The experience gave me pause however. I found myself thinking about what had happened.. what she had seen…for the rest of the day. Had I done my part? How did she access the video without me knowing? Am I failing my kids when it comes to the online world? Raising kids in the instant information age is tough, so what do you do?
What to Do?
In the end, I came to a couple of conclusions.
First, I had done what I could to keep her safe. The parental controls are up and active for our WiFi network. We have talked at length about online safety. I monitor what they are watching. But the cold truth of it is this; we can’t be at our kids shoulders 24/7. We can be proactive and involved, but we can’t be all knowing, and we can’t shield our children from every disturbing link on the internet.
We are now raising kids in what I think of as the instant information age. Virtually any fact, picture, story, or subject can be found online in seconds on a staggering number of devices. It is impossible to shield a child from every link. Parental controls are good, but they are not perfect. Things can and do get through. And what about when your kid picks up a phone with a cell signal? All of those WiFi restrictions become useless. How about when a kid picks up a friends device? What sort of controls were set up on that machine? I don’t know. I can’t know.
Our kids are connected to this information at a very early age. Kindergartners use computers in school. Tests, assessments, and homework are online. Everything is now connected. Never before have parents had to deal with this particular challenge…the challenge of too much available. So how do you combat that?
Well, for me at least, I decided I can’t. It is a fight that I do not believe I can win; not by trying to control the information. Instead, I chose to talk to my kids about it. I let them know about my fears. I told them that my goal was not to cut them off from information. No. My goal was to make sure they were ready to consume the information….I needed to know that they understood what they were seeing or reading, and that they were ready for the material in terms of maturity.
Most importantly though, I let them know that I was someone they could come to when they came across something that bothered them. There are some very dark things on the internet, and a countless number of sites that aggregate that data. It is inevitable that a kid will click a link at some point that takes them to a dark place. So I made damn sure that my kids knew that I was there for them when that happened. I let them know they would not be in trouble. Anyone can click a link, and it’s not always obvious what is on the other end. I learned this lesson with the 10 year old.
When she saw the suicide video, it impacted her tremendously. She instinctively knew she shouldn’t have seen it….and she was afraid to say anything because she thought she would be in trouble. Well she wasn’t, and I had to make it very clear to each of my kids that I would not get mad over a clicked link. I’d much rather help them work through any thoughts or feelings they may have thanks to what they saw, because in the end, I cannot protect them from everything.
So how do you handle raising kids in the instant information age? I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions.