Kids these days are nothing like us when we were growing up. It might be the digital age they’re growing up in, but these children are way more advance than we ever were. I think it has a lot to do with having the autonomy to do anything they want to do, without having to wait for an adult to ask, as long as they have a device and the internet. I’ve met tweens and teens who have taught themselves to code or play instruments, some who have started businesses, and so many other really cool thing—all online.
My daughter and her tween friends are right at the age where they are starting to experiment on the internet. They like getting together in a group chat to share memes and text the same jokes to each other over and over again. A few of them have ventured into social media. As much as I’d love to keep my daughter locked up in a tower (preferably with no wi-fi access), I know that’s unrealistic.
Fortunately, there are a dozen ways to keep my daughter safe online. We definitely have lots of ongoing conversations about the privilege of being online, and what’s appropriate and inappropriate behavior. I monitor every single thing she does on any device that she gets on in our home. My husband and I are super engaged with her internet activity.
We know all about the dangers of the internet and technology, but what about the benefits? How can we empower our children to know how to thrive online and take advantage of all of the opportunities that are out there for them?
I believe the answer is insisting that they become creators of content and not just consumers.
If a kid watches videos, they should also make videos
There was a period of time about a year ago when Ayva was really into YouTube. She followed funny kids who did pranks, unboxings, and overly energetic vlogs. I didn’t think much of it until she started acting—extra. Now, Ayva is funny and silly on her own, but she started being over the top. When I happened to catch one of the videos she was watching, I realized she was emulating one of her favorite YouTubers.
Now, I understand that kids are going to be inspired by their faves. As a young tween, my girl is at a delicate age. Who she is going to be is still being determined and her personality is still taking shape. I didn’t like that natural development being inspired by someone she didn’t even know that she just watched on her tablet.
We decided to put even more parameters around her screen time. I told Ayva that she was welcome to make her own vlogs or videos showing the toys or books that she had, but we weren’t going to allow her to mindlessly watch other people doing stuff that she should be doing at her age.
At first, we cut back her screen time. Once we realized that she was just spending most of her time waiting for her tablet time to start, we cut screens off completely for now. Knowing that she wasn’t going to be able to text her friends or watched videos seemed to unlock Ayva’s creativity. She started new art projects, and learned how to play a couple of card games. She wrote a few stories, and is planning to start a band with her friend.
Technology means something different to kids when they use it to create
Occasionally, Ayva will ask to use the computer or tablet, but it’s to look up something she needs for something that she’s doing, or to use one of the tools that the device has like GarageBand or Google docs. She even curated and edited some pictures for me.
Technology is so full of possibilities and wonder for children, and really all of us. It’s actually helping to narrow the gap between the haves and the have nots. Any creative with a phone can have a dream and execute the entire thing in the palm of their hand. I want my children to have a piece of that.
Terrence and I might be more strict that a lot of parents. We both understand how important it is for our kids to understand these powerful tools like the internet and social media, though. Staying engaged, encouraging and celebrating unique digital creation, and continuing to talk to our daughter (and eventually our son) about best ways to use technology, should work to keep her invested in technology—but still remember that life exists offline, too.