I’ve had so many discussions with parents talking about how the internet and social media seems to have taken over the world. If we take a stance and use technology blocking as a consequence for unacceptable behaviors, we watch our children transform in what can only be described as addicts going through withdrawal. Parents are often astonished by this, thinking, “Back in my day, I would be outside being a kid and playing. What has internet done to this generation?!” The generation referred to is called Gen Z, meaning born between the years of 1995-2009. Gen Z-ers can be described as highly intuitive and confident, due to the ability to access a borderless world of information at all times with just a couple of clicks. Gen Z-ers have no concept of what the world would be like without the internet, as they were too young to remember its arrival. This lack of concept can create an unanticipated wedge between youth and their parents. The reality is, the internet is here to stay so instead of fighting or denying this shift, parents need to educate themselves and learn how to educate and support their children to hold a healthy, positive relationship with the worldwide web.
According to Psychologist Jocelyn Brewer (2020) the term ‘Digital Nutrition’ as a way to push back against advertising technology as solely negative. What this means is acknowledging positive aspects of technology if one is able to find a healthy balance. This concept was borrowed from the idea of health foods and eating habits, for example chocolate addictions. If we have a healthy balance with chocolate, we can treat ourselves on occasion, however, would not tend to have large amounts of Hershey bars readily available in our home. The three Ms of ‘Digital Nutrition’ including being MINDFUL of what we use technology for and how it affects your well-being, being MEANINGFUL of what we post or read and assess if it provides purpose and clarity, and finally MODERATE the use of technology. Moderation is crucial in finding a healthy balance. Risk factors parents should keep in mind when assessing if your child’s relationship with technology is beginning to become unbalanced are being withdrawn, having nightmares, having a loss of interest in other things they used to enjoy, preferring online friends versus real friends, and expressing anger about not being able to access technology. Here are some tips on how to encourage youth to understand internet safety:
- Discourage the use of personal information in usernames, including first and last name, birth date, phone number, or location and let them know how the information can allow people to track their location.
- Have them consider the potential impact of what they say online and how it is equally, if not more important than what is said offline. Remind them what they put online is out there forever, regardless of if it has been deleted.
- Download the apps your youth has to educate yourself on privacy restricts, age limits, and content that is accessible on them. It’s okay for parents to request to be “friends” with their children on social media accounts, as this can encourage accountability without completely restricting access. Youth will be less likely to be secretive about what apps they have, if they feel like there is a level of trust between child and parent.
- Play with your children! This gives you an opportunity to learn about what the game and determine appropriateness. It is also a way to have fun and connect with your child! My children and I love playing Roblox together.
- Encourage youth to ignore negative messages and block abusive individuals. Talk with them about cyberbullying and let them know they can come to you if they feel like they’re being bullied. Assuring them the internet will not be blocked if they tell you, as many youth may be hesitant to tell you fearful their internet access will be restricted.
- Seek professional help if you notice you child exhibiting risks factors listed above or if there are any concerns with your child being cyber-bullied or harassed and they are not opening up with you about it.
This blog post was written by Post Adopt Coordinator, Brittney Engelhard, LBSW