The holiday season is underway, and digital devices (and their accessories) are flying off the shelves. Which bodes the question: How do you introduce your child to their new device?
When you gift your child a new piece of technology, is it with a simple “Here you go” or “I hope you like it”? It can be tempting to let your child dig in to their new device, especially if it’s one they’ve been eagerly awaiting. That said, the moment you hand off the technology, there is a window of opportunity for you to broach the topic of internet safety.
No matter how old your child is (or what parental restrictions are already in place), online safety is an important subject. Instilling safe habits from a young age will help your child make good decisions as they navigate the online world.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) breaks online risks into three categories: inappropriate conduct, inappropriate contact and inappropriate content. With these categories in mind, here are a few ways to bring up the internet safety before you hand over a new device.
How to Act
The rules of etiquette online have always been open to interpretation. The digital world is a vast place, and it can be easy to feel invincible when you’re hiding behind a screen – which is why it’s so important to discuss how to act.
Even if your child’s digital device doesn’t give them free roam of the internet, teaching them how to approach their new piece of technology in an ethical manner is important. This means treating others with respect. It also means putting the game or program in perspective. It’s not appropriate to yell and scream at a game when you’re losing. Discussing these guidelines with your child before they begin to play will help set an important precedent.
With Whom to Talk
The second online risk discussed by the FTC – inappropriate contact – deals with the people we engage.
At various points in his or her life, your child will be faced with the opportunity to socialize online. The earlier you teach them how to recognize the signs of someone or something unsafe, the better. Even if your child’s new piece of technology doesn’t involve direct communication with others, it’s worth bringing up the concept.
Sit down with your child and talk about the difference between safe and unsafe communication. Encourage them to approach you if they are ever in a situation where they feel threatened, bullied or uncomfortable. You may plan to monitor their conversations closely, but as they grow older this will become more difficult. Creating mutual trust and a safe space for them to approach you with their questions and concerns is critical.
What to Engage With
Finally, digital content itself is widely varied. Even with parental restrictions enabled, questionable content may slip through the cracks. Help your child learn to recognize and avoid this content, and make sure you check in with them frequently.
Spend time exploring the new technology with your child, especially while they’re first learning to navigate it. A game or program that seems benign may have hidden surprises you don’t consider appropriate. By involving yourself in the early stages of your child’s use of the device, you’ll remain aware of what they’re experiencing and able to ask questions about it.
The Benefits of Technology Tools
One of the best benefits of digital tools comes from the learning opportunities they offer. When used properly, technology is a wonderful way for a child to play and learn. Balancing this with offline time can help expose your child to a wide array of critical thinking questions and opportunities to explore their world.
Safety is always the first priority of a new toy, and taking the proper precautions from the onset can help to ensure your child gets the greatest benefit from their digital gifts.
About the Author
Lemi-Ola Erinkitola is an author, award-winning educator and busy mom with a passion for empowering parents and their children. As the founder of The Critical Thinking Child LLC, she provides parent coaching and fosters a lifetime love of learning in students, paving the way to academic success from an early age. Erinkitola encourages parents to get started by tapping into their children’s learning styles.