Keeping up with our kids' online use can feel daunting.
There are so many things on our parenting to do lists.
And every time we sit down to try and make a decision about what to do about this specific topic, thoughts like these start competing for our attention:
How do you monitor?
Should you monitor?
Are our kids playing outside enough?
Will they know how to assess the credibility of sites?
Are they transparent about their online activities?
And so much more.
Sometimes this leaves us stunned into inaction.
We keep circling around these same questions without really digging into any one of them. And, more importantly, without teaching our kids about any one of these things!
And the reality is that this is harmful to our kids because they need our help and our guidance.
And there's a chance that we are over-complicating things.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
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What we need to teach our kids about the online world all comes down to four prongs.
While this topic is absolutely layered and nuanced, my research has shown that what we need to teach our kids about the online world all comes down to four prongs. This is exactly what we're going to dig into in this article.
Before we get started ...
I know that what I teach is different than what other people say about this topic. I spent a lot of time learning what and how I DON'T want to teach my kids about the online world and then I created a system and process for what and how I DO.
Because of this, there is a chance that this system is not a good fit for you.
It is not for:
- Someone who already feels like they know everything about this topic and isn't willing to try anything new.
- Someone who isn't willing to zoom out a bit to see what our kids really need.
- And someone who isn't willing to focus on relationship boosting as a parenting and teaching tool.
But, you are so in the right place if you are:
- Someone who is willing to learn where our kids are at and how to meet them there.
- Someone who is willing to try techniques that are "off the beaten path" and different than what others are doing.
- Someone who understands that the first step in teaching is relationship building.
If this is the place for you, then read on, I'm so glad you're here.
In this article we're going to break down:
The 4 essential prongs to teach our kids about the online world
Why not teaching them these 4 things is harmful to them
- And the what and the why behind the things that we do and teach differently than what others in this industry are doing
Let's dig in.
A bit ago I spoke at a church group about this topic. I knew from experience that you can only get so far in a one-time talk and I wanted to make sure that at the very least we discussed what they really wanted to know about that day.
So I gave each person an index card. On one side, I asked them to write down what their most burning questions about this topic are today. And on the other side I asked them to write down what would make them the happiest when it comes to this topic.
When they were forced to sit down with these questions, most of them spiraled into other questions that were on their minds. They weren't ready to commit to 1-2 ideas.
Can you relate?
There is so much to unpack with this topic.
So we tend to go to the first layer of information that pops into mind, or into our Facebook feeds, and this is what sends us on "bird walks" as an old professor of mine used to say; side topics that derail us from the heart of things.
And this cycle can be endless.
My research has shown that not only is doing this exhausting and relatively fruitless—we're chasing information that is ever-changing and we're avoiding the one thing our kids actually need us to do which is talk to them.
But also this:
There is a better way.
And it has to do with understanding 3 things:
- How + why kids act.
- How to best teach our kids.
- The 4 skills that our kids need to be successful online.
Let's start at the very beginning with how kids act.
I base all of my research about kids online based on William Glasser's theory that all behavior is purposeful.
We're going to unpack what this means for our kids online, but we start here so that we can understand how it works.
Glasser identified 5 basic needs that we all have.
The way that they interplay with each other is just as important as what they are.
- Survival: The need for food, shelter, and safety. This is a physiological need.
- Love & Belonging: The need to love and be loved, to give and to receive affection, and to feel a part of a group. This is a psychological need.
- Power: The need to achieve, to be competent, to be skilled, to be recognized for these things and to be listened to. This is a psychological need.
- Freedom: The need for independence, autonomy, and to have choices. This is a psychological need.
- Fun: The need to play and to laugh. This is a psychological need.
Here's how the 5 basic needs work together.
Survival belies all the others—if it is not met, the other ones "take a backseat" to it.
More simply put, the psychological needs don't matter as much when survival is at stake.
And the other four needs interplay with each other differently for each individual.
Assuming that the Survival need is met, most people are led by two of the four psychological needs while the other two take a "backseat."
So why am I telling you all of this in an article about kids online, right?
Well, for two reasons.
- First, when we understand why our kids act the way they do—which need they are trying to meet—we can better plan and design what they need to know and learn.Because while we can't control which of their needs "take the wheel," this is based on how they are individually wired, we can directly impact their current knowledge and skills.
- And the second reason for starting by understanding how our basic needs work, is that online safety comes first because it is a matter of survival.
So when it comes to kids online, we *start with safety.
This is why you see so many top 5 lists about apps to keep kids away from. Or the best apps to monitor your kids' online use. These bloggers and app makers are trying to attack safety first.
And while I don't agree with the method (you can't actually KEEP kids safe, you have to teach them how to BE safe), I do understand the purpose.
But that * on *start is absolutely on purpose.
Because real, tangible harm comes from stopping there and not continuing to teach our kids what they need to know next.
Above, I kept using Glasser's car analogy, where some psychological needs always have to take a "backseat" to others.
Another way to say this would be that most people have two needs powering their front wheels while the other two psychological needs follow along in the back wheels, not guiding our kids' behavior.
And this is why some of the best and most thoughtful, smart, savvy and involved parents send me notes daily that say things like:
I told my daughter not to post that photo, but she did it anyway.
My son is such a great kid, but he just tweeted something that had a word in that I did not expect him to use.
My eight year old is so creative and playful, but he has the default of if we're home, he expects to be on the iPad.
I feel as though I have lost control of all boundaries and his expectation of what he can do online.
We have too many tough conversations about how his behavior (and lack of respect, or worsening of tone of voice) change after having too much screen time.
Because once our kids know how to be safe online, there are still three other needs, or skills, that we absolutely need to teach them.
We are leaving them to "spin their wheels" when we don't teach these.
The four prongs that we need to instill in our kids about the online world are:
And just like someone can't just tell us to "Eat healthily!" or "Study hard!" without teaching what this looks, sounds, and feels like, we can't just tell our kids to "be safe" or to "have balance" in their online use.
We have to teach them how to do this.
So how do we do that?
We set aside a designated time to teach.
We purposefully teach our kids what they need to know.
And we don't mince words about what's important.
And, most importantly, we address all four essential prongs.
We start with balance and safety because these are the front wheels while our kids are learning.
But we definitely don't stop the car with the last two prongs.
Wisdom and kindness are how we move from "okay online right now" to raising a thoughtful, kind leader who:
- Doesn't have difficulty in setting time limits and boundaries
- Isn't dependent on screen time
- Can prevent issues currently and in the future
- Has her priorities set
- Can self-assess credibility of sites
- Has balance between her digital life and everything else
- Is transparent about her online activities
- Uses social media positively
- And is a part of ensuring that things like cyberbullying don't exist
This is how we do things differently. And as for why we do things this way? Because it works.
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AUTHOR: GALIT BREEN
Hi, I'm Galit. Best selling author, TEDx speaker, parent educator, researcher, mom. I'm going to help you raise and teach your digital kids. I've been teaching and working in social media for 8+ years. If you are so over vague, surface level online safety advice and are ready to actually teach your kids and students what they need to know to make an impact + raise a leader, we're going to get along just fine. Learn more about me here.