If you want to keep your kids safe online you need to look in the mirror first

Parents tell me they are worried about what their kids are posting online, who they are talking to and who might be trying to communicate with them. Well-meaning parents are also concerned with how much time their kids are spending online and how their digital life is affecting their health and relationships.

Before we can expect our kids to have a healthy relationship with technology, we have to have one ourselves.

It isn’t fair for us to expect our kids to put their phone down and head up when we ask them a question if we are swiping and scrolling at the same time ourselves.

We are sending mixed messages when we tell our kids to stop posting so many selfies but then share their pictures on our own Facebook page without asking them.

We are not setting a good example when we tell our kids not to get involved in online drama but then complain about the comments our own friends made on Twitter.

The challenge when modelling good digital behavior is that we are still figuring out much of this “tech stuff” ourselves. We don’t have those personal experiences to rely upon when it comes to teaching our kids how to stay safe online. Our parents didn’t sit us down and have the “selfie” talk with us.

Unfortunately that doesn’t mean we are excused from discussing tech use with our own kids. They need us to model healthy tech behavior. They rely on us for guidance and mentorship and if they don’t learn from us, they are going to learn from someone else. Someone who may not have their best interest at heart.

Long before our kids own a phone or use a tablet, they are learning about digital citizenship from us. They are learning how important our phone is to us. So important that we:

  • take our phones to bed
  • watch our screen instead of watch our kids play soccer
  • take selfies with exploited wildlife
  • text and drive with our kids in the backseat

Young kids especially don’t realize all the apps and resources we have available to us at our fingertips. We may be replying to an urgent email, transferring money or responding to a friend in need, but all they see is that our phone is receiving more attention than they are. In their eyes, we are unavailable to them, but always available to our phone.

Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you
— Robert Fulghum

Digital technology enables accessibility. So much so that we have to carve out device-free time in our device-filled world. But it’s worth it. By taking back control from our phones and adopting a healthy digital diet, our kids will benefit. They see, learn and follow our lead. They will be kind, creative and empowered when using their devices and be less vulnerable to addiction, narcissism and isolation.

Here are some easy tech habits to try for the New Year and create a healthy digital lifestyle for your family:

  • start and end your day with you - keep the first and last hours of your day device-free
  • greet your kids after school by looking them in the eye instead of looking at your phone
  • unfollow anyone who is a negative influence online
  • create a family charging station - keep all devices out of the bedrooms overnight
  • embrace technology - try something new that promotes creating rather than consuming media
  • keep the conversation going - ask your kids about their tech use every single day

Our digital habits and attitude directly affect how our kids interact with digital media. Make 2018 a year of less scrolling and more connecting.