20 Oct #WellConnected: Teaching Children to be Safe Online
I am a mom to two boys and I also happen to be in my late 20’s so form part of the generation who grew up using cellphones and later, was introduced to the worldwide web (via a dial-up connection, of course! and finally, having it on our phones!). Nowadays, we have smart TVs that always seem to be streaming some sort of content, each of my children have a device of their own, and they both engage in online gaming, along with my husband and myself.
I have been quite outspoken on my personal pages about my feelings towards gaming, but for those who aren’t familiar with my “rants,” here’s the rundown: I often feel that parents are too critical of gaming, only ever highlighting the “worst-case scenarios” and not seeing it for the good that it can be. In the midst of the global pandemic, gaming with my children became our calm – we connected, became a mom and son team, and used gaming as part of our daily homeschool lessons. More than helping us teach my sons maths and language, it also helped to improve their problem-solving skills and the way we communicate, taught the value of teamwork, and helped my children connect with others their age, all across the world, who were all trying to navigate this unknown territory known as Covid-19. My approach to my children’s online use is to monitor, correct when necessary but above all, teach them the importance of being safe and kind online and what to do if they feel uncomfortable or sense something is wrong.
In her book, #WellConnected, Christy Herselman helps parents navigate the conversation around being safe, wise and kind online. As a parent myself, I know that it’s normal for us to feel anxious and overwhelmed by the fear of our children engaging online. However, I do feel that whether we support the use of devices or not, our world is evolving to the point that it’s inevitable, especially as more and more schools move towards a more technology-focused syllabus.
Having built my entire career around digital marketing, I feel like it’s pretty normal for my son to want to be a famous YouTuber, and I choose to encourage him the same way that I would if he had said he wanted to be a policeman, fireman or teacher. The world has changed since I was a kid, and my children are seeing the benefits of my husband and I working remotely from home, how we manage brands, pitch insane campaigns, how we make snacks in the midst of Zoom meetings, and have the flexibility to be at all their games, show up to their swimming lessons and driving them to where they need to be. Quite frankly, I don’t blame them – in fact, I am proud that they are thinking outside the traditional norms and want to pursue a lifestyle where they can be creative, flexible, and purpose-driven, while never being put in the position where they have to choose between a career and their families. However, in order for them to do so, I also know and understand that technology is what makes that all possible, so it’s important that they are comfortable with the use of devices, so they can adapt to the ever-changing world.
Christy is the founder of The Chat, a movement that aims to build strong families and to empower them to have meaningful conversations. She spends her time researching, speaking and equipping parents to tackle big topics such as sexuality, social media and identity, while empowering young people to make healthy, future-focused choices. She and her husband have three children and call Durban, their home.
#WellConnected is a quick read that is helpful to both parents and children aged 9-12, who are young, impressionable digital users and are exploring the online space for the first time. While I know we have the tendency to think, “worst-case scenario.” and I urge parents to see the bigger picture, I do think it’s a good idea to have these open discussions with children and help them set boundaries, and make them aware of warning signs. Even though our children might think they know everything, we all know that they don’t see how something like a silly picture or their online activity can be used against them and impact their future, whether for job applications or even something as drastic as revenge-porn.
#WellConnected is a to the point kind of book that includes fun analogies like comparing navigating the internet for the first time, to learning to drive. I feel this is a must-read in classrooms and can be revisited throughout the year, and even used to keep parents informed. I love that it highlights the real dangers out there, without overwhelming children with dread (my eldest has the tendency to spiral and overthink things like me, and before he knows it, his anxiousness can stop him from enjoying something altogether, so tone and delivery are vital!).
Some of the tips that Christy shares, is only being online friends with people who you have met face-to-face, be aware that people sometimes abuse that they can do and say what they want with no real consequences and to be cautious of this behaviour but a point that I loved was that it’s our job, as parents, to help our children to stay safe. This is a message I love being reinforced – navigating online is a collaboration between children and their parents and I need to guide my boys just as I did with everything else in life, from walking to driving, we have to work together and know when to let them go on their own, but also know when to cuddle them and kiss their boo-boos. Other tips are more practical like setting age restrictions, keeping permissions on, and ensuring children keep their passwords and accounts private.
#WellConnected then goes on to explain how devices can impact our bodies, minds and hearts, sharing how we can become less productive, and the emotional drain that social media can be, especially when viewed as a popularity contest. While these are all things we are aware of, I realise not all of these things are talking points I have raised with my kids – even as someone who considers herself generally quite tech-positive. I love how this book talks to children, painting a clear picture that is easy for them to relate to and gives advice that is simple to apply to our lives (even as an adult!)
Lastly, the book focuses on the importance of being kind online. Bullying is at an all-time high and I believe it has a lot to do with the fake feeling of power that comes with being a keyboard warrior – we see it in adults, so you can just imagine what teenagers are saying and doing. Children have not yet developed a full understanding of the impact of words, which makes the online world that much scarier. Besides teaching our children what to do when they are being bullied, it’s very important that we encourage our children not to engage in bad behaviour online – even if it seems innocent. If we were all just a bit kinder, the world would be so much better! So, let’s motivate and teach our children to be nice humans, both online and offline.
I love, love, LOVE this book and the conversation starters at the end are great for helping parents have open and honest conversations with their children. Overall, I can’t recommend this book enough – all parents NEED to read it, and start having these conversations to equip their children with the necessary tools to navigate online safely!
You can purchase your copy of #WellConnected from CUM Books and other leading book stores.
I’m a Jesus-praising, beauty-obsessed, plant-crazy, career-driven, soccer-loving, tattoo-craving, picture-taking, mom of two.