Helping our Children Navigate an Online World

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately into how to help pre-teens and teens navigate an Online World.  I thought it was hard enough as a middle-schooler learning how to communicate with my peers (especially girls!) in school or at church or other social situations.  Students today need to also learn how to communicate in the online world of facebook updates, tweets, instant messages, skype, blogs, text messages, and so much more.  I have to admit, as my step-son gets ready to enter his teenage years I’m more than a little overwhelmed about how to lead him through this…and I’m not someone who is afraid of technology.  I’ve been blogging for years, I have a facebook account, and have been blessed with high speed internet since my college days in the late 90’s.  This is nothing new to me.  But no generation before has had to figure out how to teach their children how to navigate through this much electronic communication.  All this was simply a non-existent when I was in middle school.

An article in Pediatrics journal came across my desk recently, and also has caused a little bit of a stir around the internet as well.  Now, I haven’t looked into the article and the research enough to be able to say whether or not social networking can cause depression in teenagers, or as the critics say is more a correlation, but I do know that I like the original article by Pediatrics because it outlined some of the negative and positive aspects of the internet for a developing adolescent and also presented a good starting point for how to teach our children about the internet.  I won’t rehash the article here, but I do suggest you read it and will say that the most important suggestion they make is to monitor you children’s online activity, and have an open communication with them about what they see and how they communicate.  Compliment them on things they do well, encourage them to change bad habits, and steer them away from unsafe practices.

One thing I would add to their suggestions is, be creative!  The internet is a vast world full of things that are fun, scary and everything in between.  Just as we find common interests with our children in the real world, find something(s) online that you have in common and use that as a way to teach them about proper internet use. My son and I are trying out a little experiment at home along these lines.  He is getting to that age where e-mail, facebook and texting are becoming more popular, and something he wants to try out.  So, he and I set up a blog together to talk about something we both enjoy doing, video games.  It’s nothing big, it will probably never have a hundred page views a day, but it’s his, and we can do it together, and I can use it as a way to teach him what is appropriate to post online and how to post it.  If you want to check it out, you can go here.

Finally, don’t be afraid to fail.  Just like our kids will get into some of our interests, and try out others and never go back the same will probably be true of their internet use.  This is a big experiment for all of us navigating this next generation through how to use the internet in ways that are edifying.  Let’s try together, and succeed together and fail together and learn from all of it.  I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below or on Facebook.

Just my $.02