Staying connected to our children is an age-old struggle, never more so than in the age of technology. Watching children grow is a wonderful journey for parents, but one fraught with worries about life’s pitfalls. Technology has only added to these worries, as so often a child’s digital word feels impenetrable, a black spot in a parent’s understanding. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Connecting with your child is all about communication: listening with openness and speaking with honesty. And sometimes, connecting to our children is as easy as playing a game!
Here are five ways you can stay relevant in and connected to your child’s digital world:
1. Act As A Guide
Although kids can sometimes come across as digitally savvy, their life experience is, of course, limited. Kids might think they know how to navigate the digital world, but this false confidence can hide doubts about how to interact across various social platforms. As your child’s digital world expands, they will be faced with challenges for which they may be unprepared. It is the parent’s role to connect with children, to help guide them through these social and emotional challenges.
Kids nowadays face the challenge of building and maintaining an online identity, their “brand” so to speak. As a parent, you can use your experience and wisdom to guide your child through this process and to promote their healthy behavior in the real world and online. “Don’t feel intimidated by new technology that might seem impenetrable at first,” recommends Dean Dykes, an educator. “Kids today face the same challenges as ever, they’re just dressed in new clothes.”
2. Keep An Open Channel
Creating space for your child to communicate on all topics is an essential part of connected parenting. Communication is the key to fostering a healthy, trusting relationship. Without communication, children see the online world as an external escape from home life, where the rules and norms of your household no longer apply. Talking to your child about technology and the digital world encourages them instead to see their digital life as something connected to life at home.
Connecting with your children’s digital world, however, is not a one-way street. There are times when it’s appropriate for parents to teach and set boundaries about digital behavior. Just remember that it’s important to listen, too. The digital landscape is always changing, and your child will always be on the cutting edge of that change. Accepting this as a basic fact in conversations with your child shows your respect for them. When you show your child respect, your child will respect you, too. This will help you and your child work together to create a safer digital experience.
3. Listen To Others, Listen To Your Child
The internet is changing fast, with cultural shifts and technological developments shaping what takes place online. Older generations find it a challenge to keep up, but internet and digital culture is accessible and can be understood by parents who are willing to listen. There are many ways you can access a younger generation’s digital culture. First, listen to your child’s perspective with an open mind. Ask probing questions about what is and isn’t appropriate in the digital sphere, and make space for them to speak without judgement.
Sometimes technological changes can pose as much of a challenge to parents as the obvious cultural shifts. Whether it’s TikTok or Facebook or a big-hit video game, it’s hard to keep up and there are sometimes themes that make us uncomfortable. At times it feels like children exist in a landscape that is alien to us as their parents. We may not have the technology to keep up and follow along.
But children like to share their knowledge with parents. It makes them feel capable. Let them show you how to use the technology that is so natural to them. This type of sharing can help bring balance to the relationship between parents and children. Have your children explain how they work online. This is an opportunity for parents to connect with their children and get an insight into their digital culture.
4. Stay Connected Through Play
“Sometimes the distraction that technology can provide by keeping children occupied creates a welcome break for parents and caregivers to unwind,” says Kelly Burchfield, a teacher. “However, letting technology be an opportunity for you to exempt yourself from interacting with a child sets a dangerous precedent—at times, you need to be involved in your child’s digital world.”
There’s nothing wrong with taking some time for yourself while your child is busy with the iPad, but don’t make it a habit. Instead, get involved in your child’s virtual world. This is how you show that you, as a parent, are also a part of that world. Playing online games with your child creates the pathways for you to connect with your child and their digital life. It’s also how you demonstrate that your child’s digital world is never quite out of your reach as a parent.
Get into the games your child plays, whether on a console, iPad, or other device. Be involved with and connected to your child’s online world. This makes it easier to set boundaries—boundaries your child can accept.
5. Be Honest, Stay Connected
For many parents, the first impulse is to protect kids from the world. This tendency to shelter children is a problem. You may be able to keep them innocent of the darker side of technology, but you’re leaving them unprepared for encounters with negative forces in the online world.
Pornography, online addictions, and cyberbullying do exist, and parents need to face up to the fact that children will be exposed to these darker aspects of digital technology at one point or another. It’s up to parents to decide when to talk about these things, but don’t wait too long. Your children may end up finding out about these risks on their own before you’ve prepared them with the right coping tools. Also, should children raise ask questions about such issues, answer with openness and honesty, rather than glossing over things in an attempt to protect their innocence.
Having honest conversations with your children strengthens their trust in you. Keeping the lines of communication open makes you approachable when your child encounters things they don’t understand. It makes you a part of their digital world and their emotional life.
Connect with your Child and Stay Relevant
Becoming a part of your child’s digital life is an essential way of keeping them safe online, even as that online world changes from day to day. Listen to your child. Speak to your child with openness and honesty, and you’ll soon be on the path to better understanding and a deeper, stronger connection.