Every parent knows what street smarts means? Teaching your child how to cross a street, looking both ways, and then once more. Teaching them to wait, not just for the light to turn red, but for the cars to come to a complete halt. Walking, not riding, their bike across a busy road. You get the point.
Beware of strangers was a special biggie in the world of street smarts. Recall from your own childhood. Keep the door locked and don’t let strangers in. Don’t take candy or rides or most anything else from someone you didn’t know well.
But think of what’s happening now, the way that complete stranger has unlimited and free access to your child, any and every time a device powers and hooks up with your home’s wireless. It’s utterly mind-boggling. The strangers who once stood locked out on your door stoop can now march right in to your child’s experience, bringing the world wide web along for the ride.
Parents aspired to raise children to have street smarts–the skills and know-how to navigate real life–so that they can get along well and ably in the real world on the outside. Parents knew that world was mostly a good place that their child would soon inhabit and have to manage. Why shouldn’t your child have the same training and advantage when it comes to technology and the internet? Here are some tips to get your child’s cyber-smarts going:
Hold their hand. What’s the cyber-smarts equivalent? Sitting beside them as they take their first spins on screens into the Internet. Show them the way and the how, explaining, in terms they can follow, what you are doing.
Let go. Just as with the busy street, at some point you let go of your child’s hand and let them run ahead, maybe even round the corner. But stay close. Just as when they ran ahead, keep watching. Give them space to experiment and learn, but keep a close eye and guide them there.
Think of the old family telephone. Teaching the kids to answer the family telephone was a ritual of street-smarts. Never say your parents aren’t home, especially when they’re not. “They’re upstairs. May I take a message?” Teach your children how to recognize and deal with technology and websites, for example, that ask for their names, addresses, ages, and so on. Patiently sit with your child as they try their hand at coping with requests for personal information. We do not want them to be afraid of the Internet, just aware and careful.
Lost-proof them. I grew up in a suburb of Boston. My parents taught me how to use buses and trains. They didn’t let me go myself until they knew I knew how to look up schedules, how to get on and off at stations and bus stops, and not until they’d given me practice getting off at the wrong stops, learning what to when I was lost. Your child will stray on the Internet; we all do. Under your watchful eyes, let them learn how to recover, get off bad sites, and find their way back to their home page, safe and sound.
Teach them money sense. How it is that some parents give their child carte blanche access to their credit cards to buy video game resources and the like? I’ve seen it plenty and I still can’t explain it. Help you child learn to live on the Internet without a dime, so to speak. Parents otherwise giving their child the same lesson as when they allow a toddler to enter the ATM pin. Wow, all I have to do is press a few keys and a machine spews money.
Try to not enable. In the old days, the kids who got “all the good stuff,” like the gas-powered dirt bikes, the go-karts, and the pellet guns, were often the ones who found themselves in all kinds of trouble. Buying the newest game systems, the speediest WiFi, and every new video game runs the same risk.
Know what they’re doing. Keep an eye on your child’s screen use. There’s no reason for young children to be using screens behind locked bedroom doors. Cultivate a comfortable presence beside your child at the computer or iPad. Perfect flybys. Learn how to balance a respect for privacy for involvement and awareness of what’s going on with your child’s screens.
Be proactive. There’s an abundance of wonderful technology, software, and devices out there to enhance your child’s life. You’re probably good at finding good stuff, things like the best pasta maker or the best SUV. Apply that vigor and persistence, using resources, like this parent magazine, to help research media–apps, games, and websites–worthy of your child.
Technology brings so much that’s good and wondrous to modern life. But children, over time and experience, need to learn how to manage it, and their screens, so as to live peaceable and healthily in that thoroughly modern, and wired world.
Harvard Medical School psychologist Richard Bromfield is author of the just-released Cyber-Smarts: Raising Children in a Digital Age.