I’m going to start this “turn off your phones” column with a call to first spend 80 minutes watching your screen.
A movie called “Childhood 2.0” is definitely worth your time. The whole film can be watched, free and without commercials, on YouTube at www.bit.ly/Childhood2point0.
The movie, about changes to the carefree childhood days of yore, is sobering but ultimately enlightening and positive as it suggests ways to stay engaged in our children’s real and digital lives.
The problems it elucidates might be familiar to some parents, but the extent to which our children — if they have smartphones or social media — are encountering serious challenges is worth being reminded about.
We all know about “stranger danger” if we send our kids out to wander the streets, but the multitude of people taking an unhealthy interest in public-facing online profiles our children create is even more worrisome. Online safety experts created fake but persuasive digital personas, and within the first two minutes of going online, their 11-year-old avatar received multiple private messages with sexual themes.
Unless you want to leave your proverbial front door unlocked and give these creeps potential access to your kids all night, don’t let your child have a device in their bedroom. In our house, my wise wife set up a charging station in the kitchen. All devices live there at night.
The threats to our children from cyber-bullying or pressure to share explicit photos is another worrisome aspect of modern life. The pressure so many children feel from online social networks (even text threads) creates anxiety and can lead to suicidal thoughts. (A common online insult nowadays is “go kill yourself” — which is easy to type, but shockingly destructive to receive.)
There is ongoing pressure to compare yourself to others — how many followers you have, how many likes a photo gets.
We can’t solve these problems for our kids, but we can make sure they have guidance.
It’s crucial to have ongoing conversations with your children about their phones, about their social networks (both virtual and in-person) and about their lives.
“If a kid isn’t to the point where they’re just a little annoyed by you going there again, then you’re not doing it enough,” said Chris McKenna, founder of Protect Young Eyes.
It’ll be uncomfortable, especially at first. It might take some time to delve into what’s going on. But it’s the key to helping our kids navigate a completely new online world with a whole new set of challenges.
“We’re going through a painful process of adaptation to something that has fundamentally changed our culture,” said Dr. Joel Stoddard, a pediatric mental health doctor at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
Parents need to help guide our children in becoming fundamentally solid men and women in this difficult time.
“Focus on teaching them how to be people in this world with all of these things coming at them,” is how one mom phrased it.
Great resources for parents are available at www.childhoodtwomovie.com.
Brian Mittge can be reached at email@example.com.