The advances in technology over the last twenty years has revolutionized the society in which we live. It has made our lives both easier and harder. Google has provided us with the ability to answer any question, at any time, and in any place (a life saver to parents of children whose questions get more complex with age). However, the wealth of information produced to answer the question has become a burden. Not only does it divert your attention on an exploration of information longer than anticipated, but also with the proliferation of fake news the accuracy of information found is now in question. How do we teach children to navigate all of this while we are learning ourselves?
Adults first course of action is connectivity. Clear limits on screen time for any device (television, computer, tablet, smartphone, etc.) must be established and enforced. Time limits are good for physical and mental health. There has been plenty of research presented on how being on devices limits physical activity, however studies on the effects of how information affects our mental state are not as prevalent. Children can easily stumble upon content that is not age appropriate when accessing information online. When they see images, or read information, not meant for young viewers it can cause confusion and fear as their brains are still maturing.
In addition to the amount of time, rules for location of use should also be set. Children’s screens should be accessible to adults always. One idea is to have a place where children store their devices that is centrally located in the house. This ensures children are not taking their devices to bed with them (and staying up all hours when they are supposed to be sleeping), as well as provides parents with the ability to review the devices for content accessed and stored. Any computer account, especially social media, the child owns parents should be part of, including knowledge of all passwords.
Content education is another area to address with children. This happens in the home and at school. When your child is accessing information online, join in the search. Talk about how different websites have different levels of reliability. For example, information found via the Smithsonian website is more accurate than one found on a tabloid website. We all remember those English class lessons on primary and secondary sources; the same applies in the digital realm. Also, show your child how to verify a fact by looking up the same information on multiple websites. Once a child is in the pre-teen age range, they can begin to understand bias and persuasion. Those are important topics of conversation to have with your child.
The digital age has provided a multitude of benefits to our lives. Learning to navigate it is a lesson for us all.
For more information on internet safety, please visit http://www.wiredsafety.com/ (a website I used to learn more about cyber safety).