One of the talks that I give is staying close to your kids as they get older.
The first time I gave this talk, I realized right away that this is a topic that is often misunderstood.
And that has a lot of baggage associated with it. So I want to go into a lot of details about staying close with kids as they get older and more independent and what that really means and how I have made it work for me both in the classroom and at home and how you can do the exact same with your kids.
Before we dig in, because my work is all about teaching kids about the online world in a positive way, I want to make sure that you see this.
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Every single thing in this post (and in my work) comes down to this:
I firmly believe in keeping your relationship with your kids at the forefront of your.
I've been building mine up with my kids and students for years now and try to remember to keep this goal at the forefront of all of my interactions with both my students and my own kids.
When it comes to the online world, I also fully understand this:
I know that when you are monitoring, checking, and asking, it feels like the opposite of relationship forming! It doesn't have to be this way.
There's something else that we need to unpack here.
The truth is that many people who talk about this topic haven't researched Human Development (I have a Bachelors of Science in this) or Educational Theory (I have a Masters of Arts in this) or been there-done that (I was a teacher for a decade and I have been a mom for longer than that).
This is so dangerous! Because these bloggers (and Facebook posters!) are passing along on-a-whim information that their readers are relying on.
So my promise to you is this:
This topic is so in my wheelhouse.
This is what I lay at night thinking about, what I'm excited to test new techniques for, and what I wake my husband, Jason, up to discuss.
I think that understanding the foundation of how and why relationship building with your kids and teaching them about the online world intersect is the most important and effective thing that you can learn.
My focus today in this article is how to teach your kids about the online world in a positive and relationship boosting way.
Let's dig in.
The biggest misconception about this kind of teaching and parenting is that it's permissive. Here's the truth about that:
This isn't permissive parenting or not doing anything when your kids make mistakes—it's being intentional about how you set up your relationship with your kids and your teaching conversations with them.
Keeping your relationship with your kids at the forefront of your parenting isn't about not parenting or "being the Yes Parent," it's about UTILIZING WHAT YOU KNOW ABOUT YOUR KIDS AND YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THEM FOR MAXIMUM TEACHING ABOUT WHAT'S IMPORTANT AND VITAL FOR THEM TO LEARN.
So today we're going to talk about what keeping Your relationship with Your kids at the forefront of parenting is, what it ISN'T, and which parts of your parenting you can refocus to relationship building and solidifying.
We're also going to take a detailed look at my own relationship-focused parenting and teaching, or what's called parenting and teaching firmly within the Human Development research-based parameters of high love and high control. (I'll explain what I mean by this in detail below.) This is especially important when focusing on keeping kids safe online, which can also be called raising digital kids.
This kind of parenting and teaching essentially makes open conversations, ongoing dialogue, teachable moments, consequences, and restitution (or the fixing of mistakes) just the way things are in your home.
In other words, it's absolutely vital in today's connected, modern world where your kids have so much access to the online world, and the online world has so much access to them.
It's all about creating, setting, and maintaining systems that WORK FOR YOU—they do the heavy lifting and your job becomes keeping your kids invested in this framework.
What is relationship-focused parenting?
- Relationship-focused parenting isn't tied to how many times you say "yes" to your child.
- It's EFFECTIVE because you can teach your child more without more yelling or more permissiveness on your end.
- It means understanding that you have an infinite depth of opportunities to connect and teach, and this more connectedness doesn't mean more permissiveness, but it does yield more effective teaching.
- In my experience, it's actually the only way to keep your child safe, learning, and still close to you at the same time.
- Whether you say "yes" to your child 5 or 500 times, you don't become the "Yes Parent" when you're focused on high love (the connection) and high control (the upholding of rules or parameters).
- Relationship-focused parenting is all about front-loading. It requires you to do the work up front, define the guidelines, expectations, and systems at home, and then continue to teach, connect, and grow closer, day after day, month after month, and year after year within these systems and this solid connection.
- Relationship-focused parenting allows you to focus on the IMPORTANT THINGS—the long term, solid relationship and the actionable, great life skills things—because the little things are clearly defined. (You shouldn't be doling out consequences or taking away phones—that's what pre-defining how your family rules work is for!)
What isn't relationship-focused parenting?
Relationship-focused parenting is NOT permissive parenting—you still need to define and enforce what's important to your family and get your kids into the conversations (which could mean asking questions, spending time together, or staying quiet and authentically listening to their stories, perceptions, and opinions.)
Relationship-focused parenting is NOT entirely discipline-free—and anyone who tells you that is lying to you.
It takes an incredible amount of control and love to build the kind of relationship with kids that allows you to earn and keep their respect and openness. And the people who have the commitment and determination to do this in the first place are not the types to, "just let everything go" once their kids become more independent.
This is just a reality check:
Relationship-focused parenting isn't always easy. Even when your relationship is set up, you still have to have the tricky conversations and focus on purposefully connecting to keep building on that relationship. And you still have to enforce rules and reinforce limits. It's an ongoing commitment.
Related: I wrote about my relationship-focused approach to talking to my kids about cyber bullying and their phone use right here.
Benefits of Relationship-Focused Parenting:
I probably don't even need to tell you this, but:
The best thing about relationship-focused parenting is the CLOSENESS.
You can't put a price on that.
I love spending time with my kids, creating shared memories and inside jokes, and all of the fun and time spent together in-between. And being able to really KNOW your kids is an INCREDIBLE feeling.
Knowing that even if I have to say "no" to something that they really want, put the kabosh on a big plan, check their phone, take away an app, or even lose my cool in a heated moment or miss a big event, that our relationship is still solid and continually building, is just amazing.
A really important part of this for me is being able to STAY CLOSE during big LIFE CHANGES and NEW TERRAINS once the relationship is set up and defined.
I love knowing my kids as they are now and enjoying them in the moment, and defining the details and setting up the systems for how we will learn together in the close and far future allows me to focus on connecting which is what I really want to do!
This is also what allows me to keep my kids safe and smart online.
What I mean by this is that if I can keep my relationship with my kids open and honest, then I can trust them enough to loosen the reins on what they know so they can continue to grow into independent people.
And I can keep teaching them new things as they come up to keep their independence, growth, wisdom, and safety accessible. It's what allows me to keep teaching my kids and keep increasing their independence without a lot of extra worrying or taking a toll on our relationship.
Both of these things are incredibly important to me. And if they are to you, too, as I suspect they are if you're here reading this, I want you to know that these two things definitely don't have to be at odds with each other.
Best Ways To Stay Relationship-Focused
There are two main ways to be a relationship-focused parent:
Spend time teaching and spend time connecting.
These are two DIFFERENT kinds of time spent together.
TEACHING TIME usually has a start and an end time, includes lots of information traded back and forth in a short period of time, and then becomes an automatic part of your system later.
CONNECTING TIME is every single day, creating consistent ways of interacting, adding to the current and long-term quality of your relationship.
There are two types of relationship-focused times, the kind that are always ongoing and the kind that only happen intermittently and as needed.
Other relationship-focused times include watching our kids' activities, putting down our phones when they are talking, throwing a ball with them, cooking with them, going for a run together, and any other time that is spent being together.
I spend time with my kids both to connect and to teach. I spend consistent time on these kinds of times every week working on them and maintaining them after the foundation is laid. They are a combination of relaxing time, outings, conversations, and asking questions, listening, sharing what I know, learning and respecting what they know, and looking up together to learn what we both don't know or aren't sure about. I love that I can spend time laying the foundation for how we do things once, then build on it again and again!
In this post, I'll be focusing on teaching time that comes along with letting your kids be online.
Relationship-focused parenting is NOT discipline-free.
But you can "automate" your consequences within these systems.
One thing to remember is that although the discipline and consequences are automated, the parenting isn't!
Since the depth of the connection itself has infinite possibilities, your job is to spend as much time with your kids as possible, time connecting, time teaching, and time building on your relationship.
With relationship-focused parenting, if you want to TEACH your kids, then I need to put in some focused time.
So if I want to take a break and just relax and focus on connecting (which I do!), and not teach at all, then everything just runs on autopilot and stays steady and my kids' knowledge stays the same.
That's the beauty of a system like this.
I'm obsessed with implementing next-level teachings and learnings—remember, this is what I wake my husband up to discuss in the middle of the night!—and since I spend the bulk of my time on connecting, I spend my active and focused teaching time and energy on "leveling up" what my kids know.
This tends to ebb, or require more active time from me, when my kids are starting something new like getting a cell phone or using a new app, for example, and it tends to flow in between new things.
Through the years, I've tried so many focused teaching activities and styles and in this article I'm going to share the ones that work the best in my experience (and lots of testing).
In education, these are called "best practice" or "best pedagogy," which really just means that education theorists and educators have found that they're effective; kids learn when teachers use them.
Here are a few of the very best examples.
This is a big part of my teaching time and it's how you can take your kids' knowledge from zero-to-whatever-you-decide while staying close at the same time. It's my favorite way to teach kids what I want them to know, by having short, direct, and specific conversations.
Sometimes teaching conversations feel big and hard to distill. This is my secret weapon to combat this and I've spent years honing the art and craft of using Mini Lessons to your advantage. If you're not taking advantage of these, you're missing out on teachable moments and are working too hard to get your point across! I have a free guide to mini-lessons about social media available right here.
Mini Lessons are a huge part of my teaching. They're the best way to expand your kids' learning and education without a lot of wasted time, worrying, or nagging. I should note, however, that knowing exactly what to say and teach during Mini Lessons can be a challenge.
Anytime you're sharing important information that you really want your kids to learn you need to be extra aware of what you think and are okay with and not okay with (this can be called your Bottom Lines) and this can be more work than you anticipate.
Using Mini Lessons is more about teaching your kids what they really need to know than it is about time saving.
But it can mean that you share really nitty-gritty, vital information without spending hours talking at your kids. I'm all about adding value quickly—as apposed to spending hours, days, or weeks hammering out the same topic, just tap into Mini Lessons that get to the heart of what kids really need to know.
REAL LIFE EXAMPLES AND PERSONAL STORIES
This part of my teaching time has a dual purpose: it's both closeness-building and information and lesson teaching.
Real conversations with kids where you share your own experiences and ones that have come up in the media can help you establish trust, learn what your kids and students already know and think, and teach the important things you want them to know while they engage in the conversations. (Learn how to have these conversations about social media here.)
Real life examples, personal stories, and examples from the media mention what you want your kids to know at strategic points throughout your talking time, sprinkling some lesson-filled words with the incredibly interesting, engaging, and relatable anecdote.
The end of the conversation is a hard-hitting point that you want to get across, where your kids can clearly see the depth of what you want them to know. This explains the importance of your point because your kids are engaged in your story, learning more about you, and understanding where you're coming from and the connection between the personal story or the one from the media, you, them, and the lesson.
TRIAL AND ERROR
Once you teach your kids something that you want them to know, it's really important to give them a chance to give it a try even if they fail, make mistakes, or it just doesn't go well.
Kids are most excited about what you've shown them and given them access to right after you show it to them. So you want to let them try it out right away.
After your kids make mistakes is the absolute right time to revisit the Mini Lesson or personal story to further cement the lesson and knowledge. Then rinse-repeat as necessary, bookended with chances to trial-and-error.
Ongoing Dialogue converts knowledge so much better than any other kind of teaching strategy.
With Ongoing Dialogue, you have a significantly better chance of reaching your kids and students and making sure that they've learned what they need to depending on your conversations, time spent, and the connection you have with your kids.
This means that if both you and your kids engage in the dialogue, and you guide the dialogue using the right strategy, your kids have a significantly greater chance of retaining what they need to know.
In the case of kids and social media, this means that they will be balanced, safe, wise, and kind online and that they will learn how to be change-makers and leaders online.
The combination of repetition, engagement, high-value content, and the connection that's at the foundation of it all makes for a powerful teaching strategy.
And once you've begun your Ongoing Dialogue, many of the learnings become the foundation of both your connection and the information that you want your kids to know.
Your Ongoing Dialogue even "houses" the opportunities for trial and error and your consequence systems.
Here's how this would work in (parenting) action.
Let's say you've begun an Ongoing Dialogue about what's okay to post online and what isn't.
At the end of one of your Mini Lessons or Shared Personal Story, you decide with your child that if she posts something online that has the potential to be hurtful to someone else, she will have to take down the post, apologize to the person, post something that lifts, or take a break from the app that she was on.
You can set up a simple Consequence + Fix™ system that you've agreed upon, meaning that if she posts something unkind, these consequences and fixes (some people call these restitution) are already pre-decided and in place.
So your child gets to continue engaging in an ongoing learning dialogue with you, have a really valuable and informative life lesson, try out what she's learning, and feel comfortable making mistakes, telling you about them, and learning from them—without much, if any, negative emotion or response from you, because you already have this system and agreement in place.
This is like an extended series of Mini Lessons and Real Life Examples.
This straight-to-the-point approach works like this:
Your child engages in a dialogue, hears the heavy-hitting messages, trial-and-errors her way through, and is re-engaged in a dialogue about what didn't stick as needed.
Simple + Effective Formula To Raise Your Digital Kid™
There Are 3 Tools That You Need To Be A Relatonship-Focused Parent With Your Child About Her Online Use
AN ADULT-CHILD Cell Phone Contract
An Understood And easy to implement Consequence + Fix™ System
These three tools work together and are deeply interrelated. I'm going to explain why, how, and what to do with these once you have them below!
How to Set Up A Relationship-Focused Ongoing Dialogue
When I first let one of my daughters get a phone and start using social media, I had no idea what I was doing, but I did have a great kid who was ready to learn the ins and outs of internet safety and internet etiquette.
So every time I saw something that I wanted her to know, I had to randomly spout information and set rules at her.
Needless to say, this was not relationship-focused at all! Especially when I wasn't necessarily expecting any questions at all, and about 100 come hurling at me in the first 24 hours that she had a phone.
I want to make sure that you don't do what I did!
Choosing Your Bottom Lines/Phone Misuse Consequences
You need to be very clear about what you need from a parent-child cell phone contract before you implement one and think beyond who pays for what and when it's okay to use a phone and when it's not.
Aim high and plan for your kids to be the leaders and the change-makers.
You could easily miss so many important details and teachings with the wrong cell phone contract. (More info on this in Raise Your Digital Kid™.)
Make sure to check for:
- Details on what's okay to post versus what's not okay to post (Both of these are important and require VERY different conversations and Mini Lessons.)
- Things to consider and think about are included. (These open the door to Ongoing Dialogue. I use these a lot.)
- Specific questions to ask your kids and that they can ask themselves when they're using their phones without you. (The goal is to parent and teach yourself out of this job! Question-asking and pause-practicing to take the time to listen to the answers to your questions are key in making this happen.)
- A place to sign and a format that can be displayed and referred to often. (You want to make it hard to ignore the foundation you've laid.)
You need to be using a Consequence + Fix™ system that's simple to understand and implement automatically in EVERY stage of your child's cell phone and social media use.
I'll show you how I do it.
I use the Kindness Wins™ adult-child cell phone contract to clarify what's okay and not okay to post, keep the all-important pause and questions at the forefront, and to agree upon fair consequences if the contract is broken.
There are many ways to create a relationship-focused consequence system, such as discussing what mistakes look and sound like and agreeing in advance what the Consequence + Fix™ for a broken contract are.
If it's a cut-and-dry rule that's broken like posting something unsafe or unkind, perhaps the phone gets taken away until you can discuss what happened and come up with a plan to fix and move forward (this is what we do at our house).
This is the simplest form of a relationship-focused Consequence + Fix™ system—the consequence is clarified, agreed upon, and implemented in advance, so when inevitable mistakes are made (because they're kids and are still learning), there isn't any anxiety about what will happen or what to do and there are no negotiations about this either, the system takes care of this so that you can focus on what's important: continuing the ongoing conversations to revisit and reteach what needs to be.
Your child can decide when she's ready to have access to her phone and social media again by simply engaging in an open conversation with you about what happened, how to fix it, and how to do better next time.
Now the system looks like this:
- Your Kindness Wins™ cell phone contract is introduced and read over.
- You and your child agree upon a consequence that will happen if something in the contract is "broken" as well as how to fix what's broken and clean the slate, so to speak, or begin again.
- Your contract is signed and displayed.
- You share Mini Lessons and Real Life Examples with your child for the specific things that you want her to know about her phone and online use (that are covered in the contract).
- Your child is given a chance to practice what she's learned.
- When your child makes a mistake, she turns in her phone, for example, and decides when she's ready to discuss what happened with you as well as how she will fix her mistake and move forward from it.
- Once she's ready, the Ongoing Dialogue continues starting with revisiting the mistake, the consequence, the fix, the Mini Lesson, and your child gets to trial and error again.
- Rinse, repeat.
Once this system is in place, it becomes simple, routine, and fast.
It's like if you were to detail all of the steps that it takes to cross the street, there'd be a lot of them. But once your child has heard what to do once, it wouldn't take very long to teach-remind-practice-check in-and reteach as needed.
The terrain might be different, but I promise that the teaching is the same—you can definitely do this!
It's so important to have a full system set in place to maneuver this unchartered territory so that it can be easy once everyone knows what to expect and what to do!
This is a great way to stay focused on what's important:
- Raising a great digital kid out of the wonderful child who you already have
- Having the conversations that matter with your child
- Staying connected with our child, and
- Keeping the lines of communication wide open with her
- Without getting bogged down in doling out consequences or losing your kids' trust so that when she needs to tell you something about her online use or someone else's, she can
Okay, there's a lot going on now! See, I told you that relationship-focused parenting isn't for those who don't hold their kids accountable to high standards!
I also told you that it isn't simple at first, but it's so very worth it. I bet you're starting to see why!
Because now you've got a teaching and consequence system in place that's all set up and ready to use. And you also have a cell phone contract and several Mini Lessons, all taught and reinforced via predetermined consequences + fixes.
How does all of this fit together?
I made a visual map so you could see!
A couple of things:
At our house, our kids have to come to us to reengage in the conversation.
This is the same system that I used in my classrooms when kids broke classroom rules. I decide whether we discuss what happened (Yes!) and they decide when we discuss what happened (When they feel ready!).
In the case of broken cell phone use or social media use rules, my kids "turn in their phones" when they break our contract, but they're in charge of or get to decide when they get it back.
All they have to do is reengage in the Ongoing Dialogue. High love (no yelling required, the Consequence + Fix™ system takes care of consequence enforcement) and high control (high expectations are set and upheld).
You can start this process at ANY TIME. So if your child is already online and you never signed a cell phone contract (or signed the wrong one), begin today.
As your child grows, so will your dialogue and your relationship. You might broaden your dialogue topics and go deeper into the information and discussion.
Doing this will not only keep your child safe online and help her be a great digital citizen, but it will also keep your relationship close and your lines of communication open. This becomes so important as your kids are exposed to and experience so much online. You want her to recognize when she needs help and to feel comfortable coming to talk to you when she does!
This will help her feel less alone and more powerful which is very important with both this age group and whenever anyone is learning something new!
So when it comes to teaching time, focus on relationship-based parenting and teaching and, whenever possible, engage in dialogue that connects and teaches.
Everything you do optimizes your time together for maximum teaching with minimal "talking at" your kids.
I don't offer random advice or engage in one-off worries, because it just doesn't make sense to do things that don't have a high (or any) return on investment. And it doesn't make sense to say things that I can't teach or reinforce.
I'm all about putting in the work to have the important conversations up front, and letting these be the strong foundation for years down the line. So everyday I'm either connecting or teaching, not worrying or talking at my kids. These waste all of our time and energy.
Relationship-focused parenting really impacts the way I think about what I share with my kids about the online world and my own experiences in it.
It's a lot easier to imagine your kids' change-making and leadership possibilities when the depth of your connection has infinite possibilities and you know that when she learns more and has more questions, it doesn't actually create more work for you, just more opportunities for Ongoing Dialogue™ and connection and more chances to really keep her safe and smart online!
I have an awesome guide to relationship-focused parenting and teaching about phone use and social media etiquette. It's called Kindness Wins™ — go get it!
My relationship-focused high love + high control cell phone contract for turning mini lessons into agreements is called the Kindness Wins™ Cell Phone Contract (because it's completely in line with the guide!)
Want to learn how to create your own Ongoing Dialogue™ with your kids step-by-step, from scratch, and have your Ongoing Dialogue system in place in less than a 30 days? Of course you do! Get all the vital conversations, step by step instructions, guides, and resources in my flagship course Raise Your Digital Kid™.
AUTHOR: GALIT BREEN
Hi, I'm Galit. (*My name is pronounced guh-leet + means little waves, like in the ocean.) I give you the tools you need to let your kids benefit from the amazing things the online world has to offer them and create a popsicle dripping, chapter book reading (in one sitting!), leaf crunching childhood that they deserve. Welcome, I'm so glad you're here. What can you expect from me? I spill it all right here.