|Not a cesspool.|
One of my children is a teenager, and the rest of them will be soon, and so we've started dealing with introducing our kids to the email, social media, and all the rest of the internet.
But...only one of my children is a teenager, I've raised a grand total of ZERO children to adulthood, so I can't point to any success stories here--not yet, anyway.
So this blog post is very much in the vein of Some Thoughts On the Subject, and emphatically NOT in the great writerly tradition of Do As I Have Successfully Done.
Here my thoughts:
1) Proper online behavior/use of the internet IS a skill we have to teach our children.I have to start here because, well...this is a parenting task I really don't want to do! But the internet is a technology my kids are going to have to use--actually, are already required to use for school. I'm old enough that my parents didn't have to teach me about this stuff when I was a kid--I didn't even get my first email address until I was in college. So I don't have a model to look at.
But I do have to teach my kids about this stuff. They're going to have to use it, and would I rather have them learn about it from me or from the world? Yeah.
2) Given that you have to teach them to use it, it's worth thinking through how you're going to teach them to use it well.This is likely going to look a bit different from family to family, given different personalities and resources. But, you've got to look at your kids and think, If you're going to use this, how can we help you learn to use this well? if this is something you HAVE to do... who do you need to be in order to do it virtuously? how can we help you become that person?
3) Rules are necessary.
I mean...there might be a sewer near your house, but you don't let your kid swim in it, right? Likewise, there are cesspools out there on the internet (and cesspools within those cesspools , and cesspools that pretend to be swimming pools, and cesspools that pride themselves in being the STINKIEST CESSPOOL EVER HAVE YOU SEEN OUR CESSPOOL PICTURES JUST CLICK HERE).
So, no. I don't think you hand your kid a computer and say, "Good luck, champ." You don't abandon them in the middle of the internet any more than you'd abandon them in the middle of a freeway.
On the other hand, they're going to be adults soon, and then they WILL have to navigate online spaces on their own, so you want them to learn good habits now. (They will eventually be driving on those freeways. Which is good. That's what freeways are for.) The end-game of parenting is adulthood. You want to protect your kids while they're kids, but you don't want to protect them from growing up. You want to help them become good grown-ups.
And while our kids will be able to make all their own choices as adults, and it's not unlikely that they'll fall into bad habits and choices somewhere along the way, I think they've got much better chances of finally settling into good habits and good choices if they've already got a baseline of what good habits and good choices feel like. Of what it's like to live virtuously--of the joy and the light and the peace that good habits and good choices can bring.
So, I want to help them practice good habits now, while I can enforce them. Not because I think that guarantees that they'll be perfect adults. But because I think experiencing goodness is one of the best ways to learn to love goodness--and, when you've fallen away from goodness, you still have that memory, that experience, that will help keep you from denying that goodness is possible.
4) Teach it like you'd teach anything else: thoughtful introduction, plenty of practice, growing freedom, and keeping the end in mind.Again, this will look a bit different for each family, and maybe even for each kid. But help them learn how to use email, search engines, social media, etc., just like you'll help them learn how to balance a checkbook. Have their passwords, not because you want to impinge on their privacy, but because they're kids, and knowing Mom and Dad are gonna do random checks to make sure everything looks okay will prompt better choices. (And because, frankly, you're still legally responsible for them, so it's just prudent.) Realize you can't police everything, but don't abandon them.
And don't be an idiot--"screens stay in the public areas of the house" is probably the oldest parenting rule in this new online world, but it's still one of the smartest.
5) Talk to them about porn, privacy, and predators.There are plenty of people who've given good advice on these things, so I won't elaborate much here--just enough to say: teaching kids basic common sense about these things is a good idea. Being a parent who they can talk with openly about these things might be an even better one.
6) Don't be a hypocrite.Use the internet wisely and virtuously yourself.
7) Slowly give more freedom.This has to come as the capstone on building good habits.
Alright, so, that's about as far as I've gotten on this one. We're still definitely in the trial-and-error stage. You have to have a plan, if only so you have a place to start. The good thing about plans is that they can be adjusted as you go--most robust systems go through multiple iterations. That's fine.
But it's good to think about things like this--good to start somewhere.
Check out more and better Quick Takes over at This Ain't the Lyceum.
Peace of Christ to you,
*Note: If a technology is such that it can't be used virtuously, of course you don't teach your kids how to use it. And I'd probably argue some such technologies exist. But I'd also argue that the internet is more like the printing press--using books and computers (i.e., creating a certain sort of literate/connected society) is going to be formative in a certain way, but they're still both technologies capable of being used for both good and for evil.