The internet has only been around for a few decades, but in that time, it has completely changed how we work, play, and communicate. Given the sheer amount of information available to us, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. News stories about online predators, bullies, and body shaming add an uncharted dimension to parenting and family dynamics. However, while the internet does have its pitfalls, it is also an efficient tool that can help you focus on family time.
Talking to children about internet safety is crucial. Don’t avoid it, and don’t wait. Children are exposed to online media from a very early age, and even if they are always monitored in your home, they may not be elsewhere. Avoid scare tactics and work towards discovering workable solutions together. Your child is much more likely to come to you for advice if their feelings are validated and actions are not judged.
Open and honest communication takes time to nurture. Start by finding age-appropriate ways to engage in conversation and discuss possible scenarios. Analogies are a fantastic way of ensuring your child understands the abstract concepts of cybersecurity and cloud storage. Rather than bombarding your child all at once, bring up the topic now and again. You might be amazed at where the conversation leads.
Set Ground Rules
When we advocate for setting ground rules, we mean for the entire family, including you. Family discussions are an excellent forum for establishing trust and making younger family members feel heard and understood. You may want your children to curb their internet use, but we are confident that they feel the same about you. While the internet can help you focus on family, it can also be a major distraction.
A limitation on screen time is an understandable requirement. However, while setting family ground rules, open the conversation about internet etiquette, feelings, and cyberbullying. We love the THINK test:
T – Is it True?
H – Is it Helpful?
I – Is it Inspiring?
N – Is it Necessary?
K – Is it Kind?
You can make the THINK test into a family game. As your children get older, they can find posts and ask for your opinion on if it would pass the THINK test.
We have discussed how to open the lines of communication and involve your children in the conversation about responsible internet use. We haven’t yet touched upon how the internet can benefit families and help you be more present in your day-to-day life. The internet can offer hours of mind-numbing entertainment, but it is also a fantastic tool.
Are you still writing out your shopping list on a scrap of paper? Rather than simply using a shopping list application, consider going one step further and letting an app like Instacart do the shopping and delivery for you.
Getting birth control and other medications online can save you time by avoiding doctors’ visits and long lines at the pharmacy. When shopping online or through an app, you are likely to save money, since you won’t be tempted to make impulse purchases.
Focusing on your family often means taking away everyday stressors that cause anxiety. For some, this means getting through their lengthy to-do list. Consider pushing odd jobs that you avoid to others. Through apps like TaskRabbit, you can find someone to take on odd jobs like cleaning the garage, organising the toy closet, or walking the dog. If you want to focus on your family, then sometimes this means accepting help.
If your children are using the internet to play games, try taking an interest in what they find fun. Rather than being judgmental about the time they spend in virtual worlds, try to understand how it works. You might be amazed to discover the world that an eight-year-old can create in Minecraft, for instance. Video games may have a bad reputation, but some offer incredible benefits, including visual-spatial skills and problem-solving.
Consider what it must have been like sending your college graduate off on a European backpacking trip just 30 years ago. There was no Facebook, no Instagram, no email, and no cell phones. A few long-distance phone calls and the mail would have been all you could rely on throughout a summer.
Fast forward to the present day, and your three-year-old probably knows how to video call their grandmother in a different time zone. Maintaining meaningful bonds with extended family members is increasingly viable using the internet. In addition to video calls, emails, and photo sharing, you can host game nights and even have grandparents reading bedtime stories.
Anxiety over the pitfalls of internet use could have us pulling the plug; however, the benefits of harnessing it for good are worth the risk. The reality here is that the internet will only become more entwined in our daily lives, and even more so for our children as they develop. While we don’t advocate for being permanently available online, the internet can be an efficient tool to help you focus on family.