My wife and I have three kids, middle school and older, and for years we haven't really felt prepared to talk to them about their digital lives. The truth is, their young brains--filled with neuroplasticity--understand the digital world in a way that is hard for us to keep up with. They are digital natives. And trying to keep up feels like learning a second language at an old age. So, because we feel overwhelmed and already one step behind, we are often tempted to give up and let them figure this thing out on their own.
But, this changed for us a couple of years ago, when good friends of ours sent their daughter to college...and overnight, lost contact with her. It took them two years of searching before they were able to contact her again. When they did, they learned that while she was in high school, under their roof, she had developed an online friendship with a person--and then a group of people--who were antisocial, to put it nicely. As their high school daughter developed a bond with this group, she began to plot a move to runaway and join them, and used "going away to college" as an opportunity to escape.
It was devastating. As parents, there is just no way you can predict the kind of paths that our kids might choose to walk down, and the internet has opened up paths for them that are even more unpredictable and honestly, scary.
But in the aftermath, my wife and I began to look at our kids’ digital lives in the face, and come to grips with a truth: We will never be experts in this part of parenting. We will never be one step ahead of this game. Generations before us have been mostly prepared to understand and be able to predict the types of pitfalls kids will fall in. That is no longer the case, but it doesn't mean that we can look the other way when we get overwhelmed.
Instead, we have started being super honest with our kids, telling them, "Listen, we actually don't know what we are doing, but that's not gonna stop us from doing our best. We are with you, and we are for you, and we will figure this thing out as we go."
Just saying this aloud to them has given us and them the freedom and motivation to have conversations that have been honest and rich, drawing us closer as a family. There have been times where we have made a rule for their phones out of fear, and a few months later, we've learned that those rules were unnecessary. And there have been times where we've made rules that we look back and breathe a huge sigh of relief that we stuck to our guns.
We don't have to be experts to enter into this process. That is actually not even an option. But we've learned that admitting so to our kids has actually built a bridge that we are hoping will last well into their adult lives. The road our kids are walking is hard, and they need us to join them on it, even if we don't have all of the answers.
Jeff, START Parent, Kansas City area