I’ve seen more than a few schools recently hire scary speakers to talk to parents about the dangers of the internet. Words on these fliers say things like “Learn more about Sexting and Cyberbullying!” “Mistakes are permanent!” “Predators are out there!” “Screens rot your child’s brain!” The message of these speakers is “Turn it all off and lock it down.”
Although there is some truth to these negative messages, I feel like these scare tactics are counter productive. Most parents are already afraid of internet issues with their children. They don’t need to be made more afraid – they need to be educated and empowered. Parents (and their children) need to be aware of the dangers of the internet, yes, but not be crippled by them. Technology is not the enemy. It’s a tool.
There are so many amazing things that technology makes possible. Children, with the guidance of their parents and teachers, can learn, connect with people around the world, and create things that would have been impossible just a few years ago. In order to do this, children and their parents need to work together to navigate the world of the Internet. Kids may have the tech skills that parents often lack, but parents have experience, decision making capabilities, and fully developed frontal lobes. Kids need their parents, whether they acknowledge it or not, to help them figure it all out. In other words, the technology doesn’t change the parent’s job of guiding children to responsible independence.
This guidance is crippled, however, if the parent lives in fear. Rather than frightening parents into locking down or banning technology, schools should encourage parents to calmly discuss technology with their children as they would any other topic. “Tell me about that website you’re using. What does it do that others don’t? Are other users of the site respectful of one another? What do you think about that?” Through these discussions, parents can learn more about the technology their kids use, and kids can start learning to judge appropriate from inappropriate uses for themselves.