The minute a child gets that first web-connected mobile device, the adults in the family commit themselves to extended digital life “swimming lessons.”
Young swimmers become increasingly competent and skilled while at the same time needing adult support, supervision, and occasional intervention. Twenty-first Century digital natives require the same parental attention and guidance as they learn to operate safety and adroitly in the connected world waters. Swimming and connected-world activities, though they require long-term adult oversight, help children explore the world around them and gain confidence, learn new things and grow their abilities, learn to make good decisions and yes, avoid making bad ones. The key to their success is adult support.
A complication of online life is that activities rarely have lifeguards. With swimming, lifeguards are key to ensuring safety, and where lifeguards do not patrol, accidents occur more frequently. In the online world, young people often launch themselves into connected world activities without much adult oversight and can blithely or mistakenly jump into unfriendly digital waters.
Lifeguards can even serve as mentors to children, keeping an eye out for rash or unrestrained behavior, often preventing potential water-related mistakes and keeping young swimmers on the right track. Yet children involved with connected world activities such as social media, apps, gaming, texting do not have the security that comes with a lifeguard — unless parents take on lifeguard and mentoring responsibilities from the first day a child begin using a mobile device.
We can all agree that children should never play around the water without lots of supervision and training throughout their childhood years. The same goes for the time they spend on digital devices. Parents and teachers are digital lifeguards, preventing accidents and serving as guides and supervisors.
“Aren’t there people who I can hire to do this for me?” a mother recently asked me at a parent presentation. Probably not. Even the best nanny and baby sitter may not pass on the values and outlook that parents hope their children will squire. And, though many parents worry that their kids know more than they do about digital life, most parents know a lot more about life’s lessons and how to apply them anywhere.