Various types of digital devices and toys are now a given in the lives of many children — even toddlers and preschoolers. From three and four years of age, many of their play activities include a vast array of toys and books that talk, beep, sing, cue activity, and play music. Even two-year-olds quickly learn how to use digital devices — after all they are generally adept at figuring out cause and effect and how to operate buttons.
The moment children begin to hold or play with digital devices of any kind is the time for parents and adult mentors to begin introducing three important digital life concepts — privacy, fairness, and respecting images. These three connected-life values, introduced early and reinforced regularly, contribute to a child’s long-term digital wellness. The three concepts create a knowledge base that supports decision-making as a child grows older, uses more powerful digital tools, and faces increased peer pressure.
Fairness: As children move from hands-on games to digital activities they are challenged to apply many of the rules they automatically assume in face-to-face interactions. It is important for them to understand that the behavior rules for digital activities are the same as for anything else they do in their lives, even if it does not seem that way as a child transitions back and forth between hands-on and digital tasks. In the digital world the fairness standards and other values can grow more opaque, so many young users ( well, users of any age) take fairness less seriously.
Privacy: Children continually learn about what’s private and what’s not, so it’s logical that they discover this in relation to their digital activities. To understand more about privacy, children of all ages need their parents and adult mentors to help them use digital tools while paying attention to privacy issues. Setting up a new device or game should always be accomplished with an adult nearby, because it provides an opportunity to talk about protecting personal information. Even when a child does not possess a broad understanding of privacy, hearing an adult use the vocabulary will contribute to digital health.
Respecting images: Everyone makes and takes pictures, and even the youngest children now share them. Early on, a child needs to hear adults talk about what is sharable and what is not, distinguishing between ownership of the photo and ownership of the image. Moreover, every child should be instructed to ask a person for permission if they are planning to share a photo of another individual, even a picture of a good friend. Understanding how to make good image decisions contributes to stronger and safer digital life skills in later schools years.
Early in their lives children naturally begin to understand privacy, fairness, and respecting images in age-appropriate ways. However, their digital world understanding of these three concepts can become muddled and confused because human interactive cues play smaller and smaller roles in their digital work and play. Parents and adult mentors who emphasize the three values can make a significant difference a child’s long-term digital health and wellness.