Any time a child receives a new digital device, parents need to update or introduce a digital gadget action plan — something akin to the rules-of-the road that are so critical to new teenage drivers. Flashy new smartphones, iPads, iPod Touches, music players, computers, laptops, notebooks, and video games — most connected in some way to the exciting, but rough and tumble world of the Internet — require parents to focus just as intently as they do on driving lessons. Sometime during the first week of gadget ownership, and especially before school vacation ends, sit down with your child and go over the expectations in your action plan.
Even as a youngster thrills to the capabilities of a new device, the potential for digital mistakes and judgment errors exists. A short, sarcastic comment or text can be perceived as cyber-bullying when it reaches its destination. A game can be played online with someone who is more interested in your child than the game. A couple of less than thoughtful words, sent to one person, can be forwarded easily and embarrassingly to many others. The right time to talk about acceptable use and intention versus consequence is when the device is new.
A digital action plan — an agreement, contract, or list of guidelines between you and your child — anticipates potential issues and lays out specific expectations that will arise when a youngster uses a digital device in the wider, less supervised, world.
A Few Points to Emphasize in Conversations With Your Child
- Use a telephone, e-mail, texting device, iPad, iPod Touch, etc. responsibly and respectfully.
- Know that a device connected to the digital world decreases privacy. It is easy for pre-teens and adolescents to imagine that activities are completely private.
- Go over activities, including every digital device task, that leave digital footprints. In fact, since even charging groceries at the grocery store leaves digital footprints, it might be fun for the family to keep a record for one day of all the digital footprints that are left behind.
- Explain and illustrate how rapidly negative, mean, or cruel comments via phone, text, or e-mail travel to other people. Reminder: If you cannot say it face-to-face, do not send it in digital form.
- Understand that sarcasm on one end or a message or text can seem like bullying on the other end.
- Think about the complications of irresponsibly forwarding inappropriate messages from others.
- Use a digital camera wisely. Take ten seconds to wonder if anyone in your family or any friends might think an image is unsuitable. If you come up with even one person, do not send or forward the image.
- Protect your image and the images of your friends. No one has the right to use an individual’s image without that person’s permission.
- Avoid by-standing. If a person uses digital devices to cyber-bully, get help for the bullied student, anonymously, if necessary, but right away.