They may be small, unable to drive, dependent, and (sometimes) sticky, but kids need social interaction just like the rest of us.
By the time your child is in preschool, he or she will begin forming bonds that help with social, cognitive, and emotional development. Over time, complete strangers become best friends, and as they grow older, there’s a good chance technology will become a component of their relationship. Though it can be scary to think about kids talking to each other on computers and mobile devices, if used correctly, technology can play a positive role in your kids’ lives.
From Family to Friends
Until they’re 3 or 4 years old, kids primarily rely on siblings, parents, and other family members for friendship. In their kindergarten years, however, they begin to widen their social circles with other children. As I can attest, it was during my daughter’s early elementary school days that she began to like hanging out with friends as much as being with family.
This is a very important time for children, as these bonds help them to develop a strong sense of optimism, confidence, altruism, empathy, and positive mental health. And over time, those early friendships begin to take on even more meaning. Supportive friends bring stability and help ward off isolation and depression. They can also increase kids’ sense of self-worth and serve as protection against anxiety, something that plagues even young children.
Despite what you may have heard otherwise, technology can help fuel these relationships as they blossom.
Keeping Kids Safe and Connected
To be sure, not all tech is created with kids in mind. YouTube has its own set of problems, but other platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook are also unsuitable for children because of the emphasis they place on social validation in the form of likes, comments, and shares. This can be especially problematic for young kids who haven’t yet learned how to navigate social feedback and interaction on a large scale.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom. My daughter benefits greatly from technology. She uses it to keep long-distance friendships going and stay in touch with her grandparents through FaceTime. But we do monitor her usage and introduce her to new tech options slowly. This allows us to ensure her safety, even as she continues to build her own sense of self.
Technology can bridge social gaps and bring kids together, but it will never happen by merely handing your child an iPhone. It requires strategic approaches and safe, productive environments. Here are a few ways you can ensure your kids are benefitting from technology:
1. Enjoy tech as a family. By all means, watch age-appropriate, family-friendly Netflix movies with your kids and show them how to use its cool voice commands. Chat with relatives on Google Hangouts and make silly faces at the video camera. But stay in charge from beginning to end. Make sure children are not given full access to things technical or internet-based by keeping passwords top secret.
2. Avoid social media platforms. As you’re gradually introducing kids to technology, avoid the TikToks, Instagrams, and Facebooks of the world — they weren’t intended for children anyway. Avoiding these platforms also helps to prevent your kids from seeing harmful content that populates in feeds because of algorithms. We’ve all heard about children stumbling upon inappropriate videos on YouTube and YouTube Kids. When there are safe alternatives out there, why risk it?
3. Keep chat rooms safe. Does your kid love playing games on your phone or tablet? Before handing over the device, make sure the game is rated for kids younger than 13. This means it adheres to the privacy and parental control rules set by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule — or COPPA.
Even so, stay vigilant by playing and engaging with the game alongside your child (and remember to check whether it has a chat feature). I’m all for letting kids communicate with each other online, but parents need to monitor who their kids are talking to and what they’re talking about.
Kids should be given the opportunity to foster early friendships as they evolve into deep, trusting, lifelong bonds — and cutting them off from technology isn’t going to help. Instead, let them use online platforms as a way to keep their emerging relationships active and healthy. Just be sure to always keep safety in mind, and help them find a healthy balance between using technology for mindless fun and connecting with friends.