A digital parenting expert from the Council of Europe offers tips to help parents stay sane in this sudden new phase of heavy online interaction.
We continue our series from the Digital Sanity Summit with advice from the Council of Europe’s own Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov, law professor and eSafety consultant. Dr. Milovidov is a mother herself, and she has dedicated the last seven years of her career to helping parents navigate the digital age and keep their children safe online. She’s a staunch supporter of children’s rights, and she has published several guides and workbooks for parents.
This makes her a perfect guest speaker at the Digital Sanity Summit, a free online event focused on productive dialogue and useful tips parents can follow to keep themselves sane, to keep their kids safe, and to keep their households in harmony throughout the shelter-at-home and social isolation orders mandated during this coronavirus pandemic.
Here are some of Dr. Milovidov’s tips for parents:
Tip 1: Set boundaries
Yes, the prevailing advice right now is to relax any previously strict online schedules, as children being isolated at home are naturally craving social interaction with their friends. But Dr. Milovidov reminds us that children still want boundaries – it helps them maintain a sense of order, particularly during chaotic times. So, while parents would be wise to permit more online hours than usual throughout these weeks of social isolation, they should work with their kids to create a schedule to which everyone can agree.
Tip 2: Be a role model
While parents are indeed the grownups and entitled to do as they wish, Dr. Milovidov advises us to be conscious of mixed messages, for instance ordering our kids to get off the iPad while we stand there scrolling through our phones. A good guidance is to be as present and in the moment as we’d like our children to be.
Tip 3: Encourage responsible use
Kids react strongly to stimulation, especially if it’s energetic and fun. They might watch someone enacting a dangerous challenge or dare online, and they might want to reproduce it in your home. Or they might not see the harm in jumping on the bandwagon when their friends make fun of someone online. Help them to understand the consequences of taking things like this too far. Remind them how life is different from a YouTube video, and help them see that the internet is populated with people who have feelings just like they do.
Tip 4: Don’t let the tech confuse your parenting
Dr. Milovidov finds herself always advising parents to “take the tech out of it!” What she means is not to let your parenting be stymied by your own lack of knowledge about the internet, social media, IoT devices, eLearning, or any other digital tools. If the technology begins to boggle your mind, shove it mentally aside and return to the core of parenting. “Technology changes all the time,” she says. “But we have to remember the basics are still there, which is communication, conscious parenting, being there, and knowing how to respond when something does happen.”
Tip 5: Talk to your children and be a safe place
Dr. Milovidov raises the point, “We ask them all the time, ‘How was your day today, honey?’ Why do we not ask them, ‘What did you do online today? How was your online day?’” By treating the online world as though it’s a scope outside of everyday life, we attach a stigma to it that can lead to a gaping lack of communication. But bringing up the topic conversationally and naturally will encourage our kids to discuss it more readily. Along with this, Dr. Milovidov cautions us to be a safe place for whatever our kids tell us. We don’t want them to fear that we’ll take away their devices or punish them somehow if they admit seeing something inappropriate online, because that would shut down the channels of communication.
Keeping these tips in mind can guide us all toward a more naturalized and healthy family relationship with the internet and the digital age. By reminding us that the key to all healthy families is sincere communication, Dr. Milovidov puts us in the right state of mind to create digital sanity for our kids. Watch her entire interview and see talks by many more experts by checking out the Digital Sanity Summit, free online for this week only.