We’re a year+ into a worldwide pandemic, and both us and our children have been forced online in expanding ways—for work, for school, for meetings, for family visits, for socializing, and more…
How have you thought you about the internet during that time? If you’re anything like my family, you’ve seen it largely as a blessing—a way to continue connecting and learning while we have limited our exposure out in the world.
But again, if you’re anything like my family, it’s also been a bit of a curse, right? I hear from a lot of parents who are worried about screen addictions, how to reinforce old rules and limits when this is all over, and how to encourage healthy boundaries—for ourselves and our kids—when it comes to online time.
These are challenging issues, no doubt, but before we worry about the amount of time our kids are online, we should expend some effort being worried about what our kids are doing online.
Here some things that might be helpful to think about:
Most importantly, the internet is a PLACE not a THING.
My guess is that most of you would not send your children into a sex shop or strip club, and would not take them to an X-rated movie or peep show. Assuming I’m right about that, it’s worth asking: do you let your children go online unsupervised? Because sending children online without guidance, monitoring, and parental controls is pretty much the same as heading out to a strip club—or at least has the strong potential to be.
Did you know that the average age of first exposure to pornography is 9-11 years? 34% of children online receive unwanted pornography exposure, and a full 93% of boys are exposed to online pornography by the time they are 18; it’s around 68% for girls.
This is not without consequence and has the potential to be incredibly damaging to their young brains, their development, and their understanding of what normal, healthy sexual relationships look like. It has also been shown to increase sexual aggression and the likelihood of committing sexual assault.
To combat this, we need both CONTROLS and CONVERSATIONS. That is, we need to use the tools available to us to appropriately limit what our children can see and do online, but we also need to understand those are not foolproof and that frequent conversations with our kids—whether they are 5 or 15--are equally, if not more, important.
So, in addition to guiding our children on where they go and what they access online, our kids also need our assistance learning how to behave in this place, and what to do if something happens that makes them uncomfortable.
While the internet often seems safe and hidden to kids, it’s important that we teach them what’s okay and what’s not, just as we would teach them how to behave in a restaurant or at someone else’s home. They need to hear from us that it is important to be honest, kind, and to be themselves online, and that if they wouldn’t say or do something in person, they should not say or do it online.
When we think of the internet as a place, not a thing, these conversations become so much easier to frame, both for ourselves and our kids.
What do you teach your children about being out in the world?
Take those same conversations, and put them in the context of their screens.
And as always, reach out for more information, support, and guidance when you need it! After all, we were never meant to parent alone.
***How have you talked to your children about their online lives? How often do you talk them? What controls and monitoring do you use? And what other questions do you have that I might be able to help with?