I was at a talk last night, which came to be due to a growing demand from worried parents and caregivers over how to navigate the digital world. The talk, although very enlighten, had to be cut short (due to logistical reasons), leaving me behind with again this burning desire to write.
Now, I am no tech guru, I am no expert of any sort, I don’t have figures and quotes to spare, All I am is a mum working out day by day how to navigate motherhood and all I have is a bit of free tips to share.
Well firstly there is the “why”
-Why we need to be aware and careful with the growing digital world.
Then there is the inevitable “when”
-When really is a “safe” or “a least detrimental” or “an age appropriate” time to hand over any sort of tech device to the younger generation.
Then comes the “which”
-Which devices are safer or better to start off with and I don’t mean the: “should I go for a Samsung or iPhone” “which”, I mean whether it should be a laptop, a brick phone, a smart phone or a tablet etc.
Lastly is the all important “how”
-How do I make myself tech aware enough to aid my child in being e-safe in every sense of the word!
-How do I have a handle on the situation, so that my child does not live entirely in the digital world and does come out to visit the rest of "the real" world now and then.
-How do I communicate with my child, so they do not want to socially close me off in an attempt of rebellionizm in the name of “privacy”.
These are all very important questions, issues and worries.
The first and most important part is to recognise them all! When you break up the whole undigestible loaf of chaos and mayhem into small chewable bites, you will find that there is a glimmer of light at the end of this wormhole.
STEP 1: WHY
Well thankfully, most of the people here in our Steiner community, recognise a whole lot of the “why”. They are very aware of it. The dangers with how it psychologically effects a human being irrelevant of age. How it physically effects and at times permanently changes the physiology of the human brain, even at later stages of human development, not just at the early stages. How the radiation coming from each devices is dangerous for us. How our over usage of "wirelessness" is damaging not just the view, but the earth, animals and environment and each of our bodies. How on a social level, it is damaging in more ways than one can count. Teens growing up without ability to actually socialise in person. Adults living in isolation due to falling prisoner to this virtual world. Relationship of every and all sorts, falling victim to the multiple issues that are coming hand and hand with instant messaging. Cyber bulling, online grooming. Identity theft, anxiety due to FOMO, depression due to trolling and/or due to feelings of self pity, induced by constantly viewing everyones airbrushed lives and comparing them to our “flawed uncensored ones”. The list goes on and on and we have barely scratched the surface of this beast.
Now one would say with all these cons attached to this world, why aren’t we all running a mile in the opposite direction. Why are we still allowing us and our children to go down this slippery slope.
Well the answer is quite simple. The “whole world” is doing it, the “whole world” is running on it, and we feel we “can not survive” without it, along with the few pros that do come with it, all of these reasons are keep us hooked on. I am sure there are still some people out there, in the “modern world”, who have completely managed to stay on the sidelines of this show and not join in, but those people nowadays are but a few.
Most of the modern world has joined in on this band waggon and as always, everything, no matter how dangerous, still has a purpose. The accessibility, the simplicity the connect-ability has changed the face of the modern work world, some of which is definitely without a doubt for the positive. All these changes mean, even for some of us wanting to keep a zero to low profile in the virtual world, we still end up having to have an existence on it, no matter how miniscule.
Now this leads us on to the when; We, as adults, have somewhat established that its a wild horse, but we have no choice but to ride it. Nevertheless us accepting it and come to terms with it and hopefully keep our own selves in check in regards to it, as adults, is one thing, but to then have to turn and hand that device on to our children and say "here you go buddy happy birthday, have fun!" Is another thing entirely!
STAGE 2: WHEN
A knife no matter how dangerously sharp still has a purpose, but would you go and hand that to a toddler, no I don’t think so. A knife is a tool, it needs to be used as one. Children at some stage of there life, do need to be taught how to use it, you can not keep it away from them forever, saying its dangerous you can never touch it. No, that is not very sensible, otherwise next thing you know; one day when you are not available and they really want to cut something they will reach for it thinking they can do it and end up having an accident with it. The sensible thing to do is to present it to them at an age when they are old enough to respect it, but eager enough to still learn from YOU! The key factor in this statement is still wanting to learn from you. I say this with emphasis, as we humans are always learning something from somewhere. Often we lay importance to the act of learning, but what we forget is, where they learn from, is actually very vital. If they go and learn from a space that is not safe, what type of information do you think they will be learning?
This is why I say that having an “open door” policy with children, is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER! What do I mean by open door, well to put it simply, have a relationship with them such that they always feel they can walk in and ask you anything, no matter how embarrassing, disturbing, humiliating or infuriating for either person. This comes with you having a relationship with them that is trusting. Trusting to keep there secrets safe, trusting that you will not over-react, trusting that you will not lie to them, mis-guide them, trick them, fool them or humiliate them and also maybe most importantly tell them off.
Telling off children may be at times necessary, but it is very important to recognise when giving a big long lecture is not what is needed. When they come to you in reverence and to confide; understanding and reassurance is what is called for.
Have open and honest conversations with them, that is presented to them in an age appropriate way. However in a way such that, it is left open ended, so that it can be re-visited and built up on in the future, as and when needed. You do not have to give them the full 411 from word go; give them enough to answer their immediate concern/query. Leave the rest hanging to visit another day and also tell them this. For example: “how about we talk about the rest another day”. They need little digestible sized chunks of information.
You may feel that I may have slipped off subject here, but there is a method to the madness. Now why did I go off on a tangent with knives and talks then? Well just like a knife is a tool, the devices of the media realm, are also tools. We need to find the sweet spot for our own individual children and us, it will be different for each child, only you as the parent will be in the best position to judge when the right time is for each child (as even with siblings it can and will differ).
I say this because both girls and boys, in general develop differently, then how they are individually as a child, how their relationship is with you is also just as important a factor, what your family and educational needs are. Only you can judge when you feel your child is mature enough to handle such a device and also still be on a healthy relationship with you, to respect and understand you enough to actually listen to you and hear you!
Those are two very different and very important elements of any relationship! Do not kid yourself, if you have a teen/pre-teen, your relationship at some point will get tested from the teen’s side, don’t take it personally, take it as it is: changes induced by internal changes of the teen, but these changes do not have to be permanent. Remember always, you are the adult, you will need to adjust and bend and come to terms with living with another adult; whom you are not yet quite willing to accept as one.
Don’t be antagonistic, give them space and time and most importantly respect! They are coming to there own, when they come out of this transition, they will be an adult! This stage is vital for the future of your relationship. Try to find a sweet healthy balance between your relationship, a space where they are still comfortable to approach you if they need your help. This is only achieved if you give them space to grow and respect to explore their new found opinions and voice.
Accept that their opinions will be different to yours and at times, they may not even be at all sound, but they need to discover somethings “on their own”. Which means they do not want you to say, “you are wrong, how you think is wrong” etc etc… instead a more helpful way might be, saying it in a way so that they can take away a different perspective and explore it on their own.
For example, “I definitely agree with you, Greta Thunburg has definitely got lots of sound ideas, lots of great opinions. Did you also manage to catch what Professor Asmeret Asefaw Berhe was saying in her Ted talk, about how we can all also help effectively to tackle climate change by looking after the soil around us as well? You should check her out, I would love to hear what your thoughts are on what she was saying.”
-A way to introduce another person in the picture for them, to see that there are more great people out there trying to make a positive change on the climate issue. People of all ages are trying to do their part, not just the “young”; just as an example of a potential conversation.
Coming back to the when, so, incase if it has not been very obvious, see my constant referral to a certain age group, “teens”. This is because before this stage, the child is at a different growing cycle and one that really should not be disturbed with this somewhat alien influence upon their body.
It is from the age of 14, give or take, that the child transitions into the next stage of development, where they will be exploring more the world. It is at this stage, that I believe, at some point when you feel right, that introduction to this world is at the goldilocks stage, the “just right” place. In the school where my children are at, it is also at this stage that they are, not co-incidentally may I add, requested to bring in their own laptops. This now leads us quite nicely onto the “which”.
STAGE 3: WHICH
Now unless your child is travelling on their own, there really is no need whatsoever for them to have a mobile, especially if you have a landline. If they neeeeeed to talk to their friends, they can, via the landline; or if you are out, from a parents phone if it really is that “urgently desperate”, which rest assured, really isn’t!! (I mean come on we were teens once!!).
Now if your child does travel on their own, a brick phone (aka one without any WIFI 4G compatibility) is more than sufficient. Yes they do still exist in this world and actually you may be surprised more and more people are turning back to them! (method to the madness!)
Next, laptops- according to my “little bit techy” husband, laptops/PC’s are most probably the lesser of all of these evils. Reason being they are less practical for “instantaneousness”. The children are less likely to constantly be on a device. Especially if you for example: have fixed hours of agreed “casual/social/gaming” usage, have the wifi only on at certain times and not on constant or at least switched off at night etc. then the addiction likelihood is significantly reduced.
As there is a reduced likelihood of the neck strain issues that are of a growing concern stemming from the constant usage of mobile phones and the bad posture associated with it, it also adds to the benefits of using laptops over using smart phones. If used off of tables and/or at least lap cushions, then there is also reduced exposure from the machine to the body, of harmful artificial heat and radiation. On the same note also a less likelihood of them sleeping with it in bed due to its clunkiness, again eliminating the risk that comes with sleeping with mobile phones in bed.
Smartphones/tablets- now really becoming one of the same things. The benefits of course with these devices is the constant accessibility to your emails and other apps. Which is of benefit for some lines of work, or even as busy parents, but as a student, this type of "constantness" is definitely not of any requirement, nor of any positive benefit. Therefore in my opinion best to avoid for as far as possible!
The perfect combination, in my opinion, would be a brick phone and a laptop which could easily see them through to 18 without any issues. In fact, if there isn’t any actual genuine pressing need for a smartphone, one could argue that that is all that one does need full stop. Yes it does mean we would need to go back to relying on our ability to read maps for example, but if one exercises the brain more, that isn’t a bad thing!
Now this is of course in the ideal world, unfortunately a place which we do not reside in. In the real world things are never this hunky dory and we do end up having to give into our children’s peer pressure; because let’s face it, parents in general (we are all equally guilty of this, in some shape or form) will all agree that this is not happening and yet at the first sign of children demanding, give in and start the vicious circle of peer pressure.
So in the real world, you probably will end up getting them a laptop, as that is most probably a requirement from school. You most probably may try to go down the brick phone route or no phone route, for as long as it is possible, but definitely before the reach 18 they will at some point start pestering you for a smartphone. The most likely outcome will be, you having to give in, because as much as you are holding it off, it does come to the point of you feeling that you are just being cruel to your child. Even though you are not, you are in fact doing them a favour, but we are human and human nature is such that there is only so much we can cope with. Especially if we ourselves have it and we can in some form “afford” it, then we will end up giving in.
Like I said before, I am talking in the realm of children who are 14+. They may start pleading with you from as young as 10/11, please just do not even entertain the idea with them! I know as I look around everyday in buses, cafes, etc children as little as 3 or 4 have there own devices. Honestly I wish I could stop them in the streets and tell them do not do this to your children, but sadly this world is not one to take any type of advice they haven’t asked for anymore. Especially not from a random stranger and that too, one they would be running a mile in the other direction from. (The elephant in the room, but that is a story for another time and space).
So having given in, now the question arises what do I do? This leads us on to the “How”
STAGE 4: HOW
“how do I make myself tech aware enough to aid my child in being e-safe in every sense of the word!”
As old fashioned as this advice maybe, but there really is no beating the age old secret of “READING”, read read read, that my friends needs to be your best friend!! This is a constantly changing world, no two days are the same in this world, you MUST read. If you want to know what is happening, how to stay safe and keep young ones safe, the only way you will know about what the latest threat is, if you read. The more you read, the more you will be clued in on to exactly what things are doing the rounds on the internet. From the scary “Mo Mo” life threatening game, to the latest virus threats that could hack your device.
You need to be part of the virtual world yourself: learn from it, experience it and read it, so to enable you to know how emotionally it can affect a person. You do not need to be engaging in every action and practice, but you need to be aware or it.
For example you do not need to be trolled yourself, but if you read people’s comments on things you can start to experience how emotionally damaging some comments can be. If you have a certain idea about how people can be so ruthless, for no real reason, you will know that your child may need support emotionally in certain ways if they are posting things online.
Remember they may not always come to you to tell you someone was so horrid online, because they may think that you might think its no big deal or they may think I can handle it; because I can’t make myself known to be emotionally weak and unfit to handle this world and so on so forth.
Or on the other spectrum they become over obsessed with the selfie culture and go posting mad due to cravings for appreciation and then feel overwhelmingly depressed if then their photos are not liked, but be unable to explain their massive breakouts of anger due to it.
These things can be soul crushing. You need to be aware how these things can change the behaviour of your children, how they can psychologically effect them at times permanently. You will only be aware of it if you are aware of what happens in the online world.
How to tackle these things. You can not tackle them in hind sight, well you can, but that’s not the best place to start. As always the best place to start is from the beginning.
Before you hand them these devices, you need to request/ make an agreement/ a pack, whatever you want to call it and how ever you feel you can approach the subject with your children; but you need to have this conversation with them: that they always keeping you in the loop online.
I.e. that you can befriend them online, you will keep a zero to very low presence on their social media sites, but you want to be added so that you can see what they are getting up to, what is happening and stuff (not like a spy, but just as a friend). You promise you will not mother them online, or embarrass them, either in person, amongst friends or online. You just want to still be a silent part of their world just on the sidelines. This is where that trust comes back in again, if you have a good bond and strong trust between you, then they will be willing to trust that you will do as you are saying.
You need to talk to them about, if they see trolling, whether they are facing it, their friends are facing it or just a random person X is , but it is hurting them or making them feel upset to always talk about it. It is a big deal, it is very wrong and how certain website do have a place for you to report them or at the very least block them.
Talk about how lots of people do put on pics of themselves/food/their work/travel and how its ok, but sometimes it can be fun at first with your friends all "liking it" and enjoy it and commenting about it. It may make you feel really excited and fantastic inside, but its not really a healthy practice: to judge your worth from these things.
People change, people get busy, people may start feeling jealous or fed up or feel resentment and start not likely your pics or writings, they may un-friend you or leave unpleasant comments etc, which will start having bad effects on you. From feeling low, because people are not liking your things, to feeling angry and frustrated. All these things lead to an unpleasant space and place, all it does is make you shallow and addicted to what other people say. None of these practices have any sort of healthy outcome. It's best to refrain from them. Yes to occasionally want to put a pic of yourself up, is one thing, but to constantly have that in your mind to put up pics is definitely not a healthy thing.
Talk to them about how and why you do not want them to be online late at night so there will be a type of imaginary curfew for the phone/wifi etc. But making sure that then the same rule is also followed through by all the other adults too. So that you are not a hypocrite. Explain to them that if you do need to be on your device for which ever reason at night, you will allow it, if it is a reasonable request. But with that enforce that they must always make sure they have at least a lamp on in the room, so that the screen’s glaring light is not the only thing blinding your eyes at night and how that is extremely harmful for your eyes.
This flexibility will make them more willing to respect the rules and hopefully prevent them from going behind your back and sneaking around with it. Don’t make it forbidden and taboo, the more you try to make a big deal about a thing and take it from them, the more they will want it more and more.
This is not a fight about power and control, this is a time to teach them to have a healthy relationship with this world for life. Its bigger than “the now”, always focus on the bigger picture! Educate yourself and educate them about why certain practices are not healthy. Encourage them and show them by example how to build a healthy relationship with this world.
"Meal times, how to retain that reverent family time at meal times".
Do not bring your phone to the table, do not answer anything that rings at meal times- and this is a practice one should always have, irrelevant of if they have children and how old they maybe. Keep meal times a “family time”. If you never bring the phone to the table, then you will also be respected and heard when you ask your teen not to!
Get them to start cooking at least one day a week. This has many benefits. Not only will they learn a vital life skill, but when they slave hard in the kitchen, then they will also respect the fact how important it is for the other people to be "present"-in every sense of the word, at the table when the table is laid. They will learn the importance of the table attendees enjoying the meal, respecting it and praising it! And hopefully also how important a little bit of help can be when you are cooking for the family; if someone offers to lay the table or wash some dishes, then they will hopefully be more inclined to think of helping when it is not their turn to cook.
When you assign them a meal time to cook, don't just assign them a meal, teach them how to meal plan for it, shop for it. These are also vital skills that they will need later in life. Tell them it doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated, you will all happily eat whatever they will prepare for you. Teach them both, how to shop in local shops and online. More and more people are shopping online these days and its is a very empowering practice for them to learn, that you can buy fresh groceries with a click of a button, just like you can order from "just eat" with a click of a button. It will also teach them that the virtual world can be used to make your life easy, as oppose to just for gaming and socialising. If they are not very excited for it, start videoing them when they cook, so they can feel they are on a Youtube video or TV show to get them excited about cooking. They love this type of attention. You do not have to put any of it actually online, unless you both want to, but it is a nice way of getting them excited about it and wanting to do more and more with there meals.
Please remember these are just my own personal tips, I am sure there are a lot more way and things that one can do. These are just what has been whizzing around my head, for now the past week, as it’s taken me a week to actually complete this.
One more thing as I (finally) take your leave, (its been a long one this one), keep the teen engaged with lots of planned activities. The more their schedule is full, the less time they have for any other distractions. Having strong family routines, with a healthy mix of fun and games, activities and chores, classes and school, all ensure that they will hopefully stay engaged and interested in the real world and less available to “kill time” on the virtual one.
If you stuck it through in one read, I am impressed!
Wishing us all, power to be the parent we all wish to be, on all counts!
This space features my reflections, opinions, ponderings and from time to time announcements of what I am up to. It literally is me in my corner on my soapbox.