Since we now have an eight year old, parenting in some ways is getting easier. But, as Carter gets older, there are dilemmas that pop up that take proactive approach. Who knew 8 years ago that I would be having discussions about Internet safety with my eight year old.....
Yes, technology is one of the things that HAS to be addressed early. Times have changed and just like the sex talk, starting the conversation early is monumental. That talk, the sex talk, is a continual conversation you should be having with your child from the time they start asking simple questions about where babies come from, not something you try to have with them when they turn 10 or 12. Good luck with that if you do. For more on age and developmentally appropriate discussions on sex, see my post HERE
This time, our discussion with Carter had to do with technology. Here are some things we recently addressed with him.
1) We explained why we were having this discussion, in a very age appropriate way. We told him that since we are his parents, it's our job to keep him safe. One of those ways is monitoring what he does on the Internet. We informed him that it is very easy to see and hear things that are not appropriate for him to see or hear. We explained to him that some parents may not monitor their kids in the same way we do, and that's not bad, but we definitely want him to know and be prepared when and if something comes up.
2) My husband and I discussed with Carter that if he is playing a game and he is prompted to watch a video to get points, coins, or whatever mom and/or dad need to be there with you while you are viewing them, or need to view them enough to know you aren't being exposed to something you shouldn't.
3) We had a discussion with Carter about what is appropriate content and what is not appropriate content for him to view if and when he is with a friend and that friend has more access to technology without parental supervision. I would be naive to think that the possibility of him being exposed to something that is inappropriate isn't there. This included bad words, cursing and nudity. I explained it like this....if you see anyone naked or partially naked on a video you are watching, it's not appropriate for you to watch. Carter knows (somewhat) what bad words are and words that you aren't allowed to say. We didn't go into much detail. You don't have to. They know.
4) We discussed what to say and do when something inappropriate pops up or his friend wants him to watch something that is inappropriate. We explained how to say, nicely and politely, that what they are viewing is something he doesn't want to see or that he knows his parents don't want him to see. We role played different scenarios with what to say when his friend questioned him or made fun of him for not wanting to watch something inappropriate. Then we told him he could always go to an adult and ask to come home if his friend didn't listen or wasn't being nice to him.
5) We asked him if he had any questions. Surprisingly, he didn't. You could tell his wheels were turning in his mind. I told him that after he thought about it a little while and had questions to please feel free to ask me or dad. We also told him he never had to be afraid to tell us something, that we would (try) not to get mad and if he talks to us up front about something it's less likely that he will get in trouble. And he would never get in trouble for telling us something that he saw, however, if we catch him watching something or hiding something from us, that requires a consequence. The big thing we were going here was trust. He can trust us with information. We are safe. It builds on our relationship.
This is just the beginning. What is awesome about having this conversation BEFORE anything happens is that we can build on it constantly. As with the sex talk, it's a continual conversation that comes up every now and then. When we inadvertently see something or hear something we shouldn't, I take that as an opportunity to talk to him about it and why it is wrong or something we don't watch or listen to. It helps him understand the difference between right and wrong and it keeps a dialog open. If he knows he isn't going to get into trouble for discussing things with me, which means I don't pass judgement or jump to conclusions when he brings something inappropriate up or asks questions, then he knows I am safe and his dad is safe and he is going to be way more open with us and we will have a continual dialog. If he is asking simply for the knowledge and understanding to help him make better choices, then I welcome those comments and questions. If he does something blatant to get attention, there will be a consequence. There is a difference and you, as the parent, will recognize this. I hope.
Whew. Good luck.