Practicing a responsible digital lifestyle is a parental responsibility that has entered our life. Caregivers need to teach and model how to use the internet responsibly as a resource rather than restrict them from the knowledge that they will inevitably have access to elsewhere. It is unrealistic to expect children to refrain from screens and internet use.
Here are five basic steps to help parents introduce and establish responsible and safe online usage.
- Be knowledgeable and understand the online world
If you are unfamiliar with the online world and popular apps, spend time online, create accounts of the most used platforms and learn how to navigate them. Get a feel for managing the social media apps so you can effectively implement parental controls.
- Educate yourself
The internet can be a helpful resource when used responsibly; it can also be a dangerous place riddled with false information, scams, unsavory characters, and cyberbullying, to name a few. Stay educated and up-to-date on important issues and trends; work collaboratively with your children to protect their safety and digital footprint.
- Keep the lines of communication open
Foster open communication with your children, listen to their feedback, and clarify your expectations. Many families create a “screen and internet family agreement contract,” which spells out expectations, family rules, and consequences. There are several templates you can use as a starting point online. As parents, we must also model and practice healthy and responsible online habits.
- Monitor online activity
Trust is essential in the parent-child relationship, but so is safety. Utilize the family online agreement to establish transparency and rules. Use age-appropriate time limits, parental controls, and consequences.
- Get help if you need it
If your child’s internet use and gaming have gone beyond your control, you should consider seeking professional support. It is estimated that 3% of all gamers can develop a gaming addiction. Some symptoms include increased tolerance, inability to stop gaming, withdrawal from socializing, failing to meet their responsibilities, physical neglect of themselves and their environment, and continuing the activity despite adverse consequences to themselves and their life.
In summary, the internet is part of our life. Caregivers must practice and model a healthy digital lifestyle, keep open communication with their children, and educate and collaborate with them about expectations, resolutions, and responsibilities.
Marina Blalock AMFT