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Parents, Kids, and Tech: teaching kids how to navigate life online

I grew up in the time before cell phones were big, I mean the ones that did exist were physically big but not popular. As a kid I had several numbers memorized, and the only time I took pictures they were on disposable cameras. When I was a teenager phones had started to become popular, at first it was with the Nokias that could withstand a drop from a three-story building (my dad was super happy that it didn’t break) but then they got redesigned into flip phones. If you had a Razor phone then you were automatically cool.

When I was turning sixteen my mom got me my first phone, and it was for when I started driving I could call in an emergency. It was a simple flip phone with limited minutes and texts. When I went to camp I had it with me, but I turned it off, I wanted to have fun at camp. At school if you got caught with a phone you could be suspended, so it was tucked safely away on silent.

But things started to change as phones became smart, and could do more. And with those great advancements came a responsibility that parents never had to teach before, but now things were different. The boom of technology has made it difficult to keep up with the newest gadgets. Smartphones and tablets are given to kids younger and younger, but what should we teach them before they use these devices? As someone who has worked with students for years in youth groups, tutoring, and teaching, I’ve come up with this simple essay on what to teach kids before they use smart devices.

Lesson 1: Words can Hurt.

When we were kids there was the old saying, “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never bother me.” We all knew that wasn’t true, but we said it as a mantra, hoping that words wouldn’t bother us. The truth is that words carry power, we can build up or tear down with our words.

Now we can reach even more people with our words, our range is far greater than before. Which unfortunately means that there are those who use social media to say a lot of hurtful things. And people looking for self-affirmation can get a lot of bad attention. Bullying happens at school and on devices.

We need to teach kids how to use the internet and social media.

  • Don’t Look for Self-Affirmation Online.

  • This may seem obvious to some, but when you are dealing with acne, smelling bad, and “all the other kids” have insta-perfect lives, well it’s hard to cope with that. Going online for self-affirmation can lead to being addicted to getting likes, and followers. It can lead kids to talking to strangers online who message them.

  • Instead we should affirm one another. Take some time to let your kid know how much you appreciate them and love them. Celebrate victories with them, and allow them to see you when you aren’t perfect. Let them know that they don’t need a filter to make themselves better

  • Make sure they understand that they shouldn’t accept messages from strangers. The message may seem enticing, but it is not worth it. If you don’t know the person in real like (irl), then you don’t need to be messaging them. Nor should they just let anyone follow them on social media. You can change the settings to make profiles be private, that way not just anyone can see your posts.

  • Our words do matter, and have an impact on those around them.

  • Is what I am saying helpful, true, and needed? Their is way to much false information out there already, and also a lot of unneeded information.

  • We are not to use screens as a shield to allow us to say whatever we want, but as an opportunity to be kind. Our character should remain the same whether in person or in messaging.

  • Dealing with bullies.

  • Unfortunately not everyone is kind, and some people think that they can say whatever they want. It use to be a matter of standing face to face, but now online it’s easier than ever to bully. People will say mean and hurtful things, post and share pictures without consent, and spread gossip.

  • We have to step in and help our kids out. Here are a few ways we can do that:

  • You own the device,and are allowing them to use it. You have all their passwords. Having their passwords means you can check the device at anytime, and can see their messages (don’t forget to check messages from apps such as Instagram, Facebook, Pintrest, and others). You can approve which apps they can and cannot have.

  • If you do see that someone is sending hurtful things to them, or saying hurtful things about them, set the example worth following. It’s easy to fire back insults but that only adds fuel to the fire. Instead handle it cooly and with respect.

  • If you know the parents of the person, talk with them, they may have no idea what their kid is saying or doing.

  • It’s easy to block people, and it may be the easiest way to help.

  • Let your kid know that we don’t have to pay back insult for insult (1 Peter 3:9).

  • Have your kid turn in their devices at night. Set the time, and have all the chargers in your room. Will they like it, no. But this will help them be more connected and make memories with you. And it will keep them from overusing their devices. If people want to bully, now you can be more aware and not have to be reactive.

Lesson 2: Limiting Laziness, Making Memories.

The next thing to help our kids with is the fact that too much time on device isn’t good. I don’t need to tell you how many times you’ve had to tell your kids to load the dishwasher while they were zoned out. It used to be this way just with TV and video games, but now with devices we take everywhere, it is that much easier to become disconnected from reality.

Here are a few simple things we can do to help them not become phone-zombies, but rather to be the young men and women we are raising them to be.

  • Use apps like ScreenTime on iphone to monitor how much time is being used on each app. Use that info to monitor and set boundaries and break times for your kids.

  • Limit the amount phone time. Having your kid turn in devices at night is an easy thing to do. Set the time they have to turn in their devices, and stick with it. Keeping all the chargers can help them stick with this rule. Also don’t be afraid to say no devices during certain times (meals, vacations, etc.). It will help everyone stay in the moment and make memories.

  • Change the wifi password, and give them the new password after chores are done. This will help them understand that their device is a privilege.

  • Set the example for your kids. Kids copy adults, even if they don’t mean too. Using devices isn’t bad, just don’t let them take your time away with your family.

Lesson 3: Lust

We live in a world where people take pictures and videos of everything! I never knew how funny cats can be, or how many Office memes there are in the world. Those things are great to see, but not everything is good to see. We can’t unsee something, and as much as we want too, we can’t make our kids unsee something bad. But we can teach them the truth and what to do when they stumble upon something bad.

  • People are not objects. Pornography teaches that people are objects to be used, and that simply is not true. The Bible teaches us that we made in His image (Genesis 1:27) and are His masterpieces (Ephesians 2:10). And even if you don’t believe in the Bible, we can still agree that we are human beings and not human objects. As people we are invaluable and have so much to offer. People are not to be used, and lust isn’t the same as love.

  • Teach your kids that if they ever stumble upon a bad picture, click the screen off immediately and give it to you. Porn is something that makes us want to see more, it is a poison that entices us and warps our brains. And it’s also unfortunately all too easy to find, even if you weren’t looking.

  • Make sure to talk to them about it, while the conversation may be awkward this can help them understand how they should view people, and what is and isn’t acceptable. Ignoring the topic won’t help, and can be detrimental.

  • Teach them how to respectfully treat others. People are not objects for pleasure or to be used. Nor should people be advertised as such. Ask them what they think the point of the ad, article, or page is trying to communicate? What response are they trying to get from people? Are they being respectful of the person? Helping them understand that respect matters, regardless of who the person is can help.

  • Help them in controlling their mind, if they keep thinking about those images, then it will feed their curiosity, instead change the attention onto something else after having a conversation with them. Put the devices away and go do something together can help them get their thoughts away from what they saw.

  • If your kid does struggle with this, then let them know it’s okay to struggle but not okay to give up and give in, also let them know that you will help them win this fight. They are going to be racked with shame, so help them win the fight. Here are some great resources to help:

  • Fight the New Drug

  • Covenant Eyes

  • Make sure they understand that nude photos are never a good thing to send or ask for them to be sent. This is not the conversation you want to have, but it can help keep you from having a worse conversation. Too many have been wrecked by making this one bad decision.

  • It also helps being proactive and not just reactive in these conversations. Talking to your kids beforehand can help steer them away. And building up the bridge of trust that they can talk to you about these subjects can help if they do see something, they can be more willing to talk to you about what they saw.

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