The Internet is everywhere. We can access it from any one of multiple devices that we access every day, including our computers, tablets, cell phones and even wearables. Given how easily accessible it is, how can parents teach their kids to use the internet responsibly?
In order to train your kids to use the Internet responsibly, you need to think long term. This is not something you simply teach your children, its a journey you take with them as you train them, holding them accountable, and at the same time, allowing them to hold you accountable at the same time.
What follows in this article are 5 steps you can take right now to train your kids to use the internet responsibly. Using the Internet responsibly is to use its resources to help develop you into a better person. The information that it can provide should build you up, encourage you, and provide a means to help develop your skills. It should not tear you down, enslave you, or make you dependent. The Internet can set you free, or it can enslave you. As a parent, it is your job to train your children to use the internet in such a way as to set them free.
You Need to Play the Long Game
The internet will be around forever. It’s not a fad, and it is not going away any time soon. If anything, it will become more and more integrated into our everyday way of living. As such, you need to play the long game. In other words, you need to be thinking long term, (10, 20 years from now). If you train your children by building the proper foundation now, they will build on that foundation.
My goal in this article is to get you to focus on the impact you can have on your children, by simply introducing a few steps you can take starting today, in the hope that you will help your children develop healthy habits.
Teaching your child is one thing. Training them, is quite another. Teaching a child only takes but a few minutes to show them how to do something. Training them will take much longer. You will only know that you have successfully trained your child when they continue to demonstrate behavior that is in line with what you have taught them.
Security Software is Not the Solution
When parents think about using the Internet responsibly in their home, their first instinct is to look for security software that they can put on their children’s devices or the home network in order to protect their kids from dark things on the Internet. That is understandable, however, that is not the answer.
Security software helps, but it is not the solution, it is only a tool.
The tool may block certain websites, but it does not deter one’s thinking. In other words, it does not change minds. For example, implementing security software on the home network may prevent your young teenager from viewing porn at home. But does it prevent him from accessing porn on his phone (or a friend’s phone), when he’s not home?
Security Software will not train your kids to think differently about the internet. It can only prevent your children from accessing certain types of websites. Granted, these security software tools can, and do, prevent malicious intruders from accessing your kids through the internet, but software is no substitute for training your children.
What lies below are five steps that you can take right now to start training your children how to use the Internet responsibly.
When I speak of taking ownership, I’m referring to you taking charge. Own it. Own this responsibility yourself. Focus on training your children to be responsible with the internet, and take it just as serious as you would if you were teach your kids how to drive a car. Driving a car responsibly leads to freedom. Driving it irresponsibly can maim people or kill somebody.
Being enslaved to the internet can take many forms, for example:
- If not balanced, one can easily learn to find their identity in what other people say about you on Social Media.
- Online pornography can destroy a person’s life and marriage.
- Young people are especially susceptible to becoming addicted to their cell phones as it provides access to Social Media and texting.
This is not a responsibility that you delegate. You can’t delegate being a Dad. You can’t delegate being a Mom. This is YOUR responsibility, not the responsibility of the school. YOU have to own this.
Get Your House in Order
Before you can commit to the journey together, you have to commit to the journey yourself.
In order for your kids to know that you mean business, they have to see it demonstrated in your life FIRST. How effective would it be for you to tell your kids not to do drugs when you yourself take pills from the medicine cabinet to get high? How impactful would your message not to drink and drive be, if you just got arrested for DUI? How effective do you think your word would be if you were to tell your son not to watch pornography on the internet when you yourself have playboy magazines in your bedroom? You get the point.
Before we move on, I want to give you word of caution. If you don’t use the internet responsibly now, then do NOT try to get a commitment from your kids. You should only proceed in making a commitment with your kids to use the internet responsibly once they know that you already are using it responsibly.
Have an Open Conversation
Think You’ve Got it All Together? Ask your Kids.
Believe it or not, your kids may not know that you are using the Internet responsibly. So, ask them, “Hey, what does it mean to use the internet responsibly?” This will open up a conversation, which is what you want. You want honesty. Do not judge, even if they make an accusation against you.
Don’t rush it. It’s so important that your kids see that you demonstrate integrity before you lead them on this journey of using the Internet responsibly.
Share your Concerns
Again, this is not an opportunity for you to tell your kids what you don’t like about their current Internet behavior. Instead, tell them what you do like about how they use the internet. For example:
- I like that you already know how to use the Internet to find local restaurants for take out.
- I think it’s great that I can ask you to find out what the store hours are for a given business, and you know how to get that information for me.
- Every time I see you look up something on the internet to learn more about that subject, it makes me smile.
So, how do you communicate what Internet responsibility is, and why it is important? The easiest way to do this is to ask them a few questions, and get their feedback.
- Do you think the Internet is good? Why?
- Do you think the Internet is bad? Why?
- What do you like about the Internet?
- What don’t you like about the Internet?
- Do you think that the Internet is here to stay?
- If the Internet is here to stay, do you think that there is a right way to use it and a bad way to use it?
- What are some good ways people to use the internet?
- What are some bad ways people use the internet?
- Do you think that together, we could find ways to use the internet in a way that will benefit us as a family?
- What would that look like?
Remember, your goad is to get their buy-in. Only after you have their buy-in, will they willingly let you lead them on this journey.
I’ve already said this once, but I’ll say it one more time. Your objective is to build your kids up, not tear them down. Even though they may already be using the internet in a way that you don’t approve of, as a parent, your job is to lead them down the path to success. You do that by demonstrating the right way, by showing them how, which leads us to Step 3.
Commit to the Journey
Your kids need to know that are listening to them, and when I say, listen, I’m talking about the kind of listening where you are not thinking of an answer or a come-back to what they are saying.
Before you can lead your kids, they need to be convinced that you will listen to any concerns they may have, regardless of their age. If they are 8 years old, they need to know that you will listen to their concerns. If they are 18, they still need to know that you will listen to their concerns, (without judgement).
Listen. Listen. Listen.
Listen to what they say, and if they happen to make an accusation when you share with them (even one that hurts), thank them for being open and honest with you. If they are right, make it right by changing your own behavior. If applicable, only after you have made changes in yourself, should you attempt to lead them in this venture. You can demonstrate how important this is to you by making it a point to change your own behavior. Because your kids are always watching you, they will definitely see any changes in your behavior.
Sign a Contract and Get it Notarized
There is something to be said about signing a contract and getting it notarized. It makes it official. There is no question as to its legitimacy. Your kids, (regardless of their age), will see it as binding, because an unknown third-part witnessed the signing, and placed a seal on it. When your kids see you take your wallet out and pay cash to the Notary Public, it will show them just how important this is to you.
This is no small thing, and it should be celebrated. The bigger of a deal that you make out of this, the more impact and importance it will have in your children’s lives. And it doesn’t matter how young or old they are. So, after getting the document notarized, go to Walmart or to the Hobby Lobby, and purchase a frame so that you can hang it in a very prominent place in your home. Don’t skimp on this. This is huge.
After you have the purchased the frame, celebrate by going out to dinner. Don’t skimp here either. Take them out to their favorite restaurant, but be sure that they know why you are taking them out to dinner. Tell them unabashedly that you are going out to dinner to celebrate the signing of the contract. Depending on their age, they may think that you are a dork, and that’s OK. I promise they will respect you for following through with this.
When you get home from dinner, hang it in its frame where everyone can see it, so that it displays prominently as a constant reminder of the commitment that each of you have made to one another. When people come over to visit and inquire of it, you’ll find that your kids will proudly tell them what it is and why it is important.
Hold Yourself Accountable
Because you are on this journey with your kids, everyone in your house should hold everyone else accountable. Encourage your kids not to see this as a “gotchya” moment, but let them know that they are welcome to take a look at your cell phone any time, to see what websites you have been visiting, or apps you have on your phone. Encourage them to interrupt your schedule to see what websites you have visited.
Of course, accountability goes both ways. You also have the responsibility of taking a look at their cell phone without notice to see what websites they have visited and who they are spending time with on social media platforms. Encourage your kids to look at your phone frequently. Very frequently. The more you do, the more your kids will see that accountability goes both ways.
I want to encourage you to check their devices at least once a week, (a different day and time each week). THIS IS NOT A TRUST issue. It is an accountability issue. Encourage your kids to do the same, as we are all vulnerable. When they ask to see your cell phone just before you walk out the door to go to work, give it to them. Accountability has no boundaries, and doing so speak volumes.
You love your kids, and you want the best for them. Do this in love. If you approach this in a loving manner, instead of as an authoritative “Because I said so!” parent, you will connect with your kids. How you approach them makes a WORLD of difference.
I am confident that if you continue to faithfully execute the steps listed above, you will find that your kids will not only use the Internet responsibly, but they will gain deep respect for you. They may not show it at first, but as consistency prevails, they will see that you always had their best interest at heart, and one day, will thank you for your faithfulness as a parent.