Have You Heard Of The Virtual Playground? Here’s What You Need To Know.

Galit Breen Elementary School

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Dear Galit,

I know there are a lot of safety issues with apps. But I am worried about the social aspects, too. What are the tricky areas to watch for socially for new device users?


Worried About The Tricky Terrain

Dear Tricky Terrain Climber,

You are a reader after my own heart! When I first started researching kids and their online use, I was so laser focused on online kindness, that it took me a little while to zoom out and realize that there are other skills that our kids need to be great digital users!

And while I have figured these out—they are balance, safety, wisdom, and an Ongoing Dialogue with the important adults in their lives—kindness will always be my focus.

So lets dig in here.

First of all, you are 100% right that the online world can be a tricky social terrain to maneuver.

Double duty

Our kids are still managing all of the social pressures that we experienced when we were kids, and all of these are absolutely compounded by the access that they have to the Internet and that the Internet has to them.

So even if they're not verbalizing it (because they don't know life any other way!), this is a lot for them to manage.

Some of the online skills that our kids have to learn are:

  • Understanding the nuances of the online world (Most of us as adults are still working on this!)
  • Foreseeing how far reaching their posts have the potential to be. (And the very real consequences that this fact has.)
  • Predicting how their posts will be perceived. (Pausing to think about this is a vital step between wanting to post and actually posting that our kids absolutely need to be taught. This doesn't come naturally!)
  • Making sense of the very real feelings of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and jealousy that social media inspires. (I call this “Greener Grass Perception.” It affects all of us, but it can absolutely be taught to be managed.)
  • Understanding what advice such as “be safe online” or even “make good choices online” really means. (These are largely undefined which doesn't set our kids up for success!)

Phew, that’s a lot!

In this series, we’ve discussed how important having an Ongoing Dialogue about all of this is. One reason for this is so the conversation is open and it doesn’t feel awkward or weird when—not if, when—your kids need your help with something they experience online.

The other reason is to give you a chance to discuss everything in a way that your kids can grasp and utilize it all!

Something to note

Teaching best practice says that kids learn best in short, repeated, lessons that layer one on top of the other.

So if today you discuss one topic, tomorrow or next week you can layer on the next topic, and before you know it, your kids have a solid foundation of information to use as they maneuver this new terrain!

In terms of interactions, here are the places to keep in mind (*and to discuss):

  1. Photo comments
  2. Private or direct messages or texts
  3. Disappearing videos or “stories”
  4. Alternative texting apps

So I will never (ever) recommend that you try to monitor all of these spaces!

Doing this is not only not sustainable, but it’s also not effective.

Our kids are so smart and they can get around our checks with text codes and encrypted apps. If they want to hide something from, I truly believe that they will.

But if you are at the very beginning stages of all of this, I do recommend starting with access to one thing—one app or texting, for examples—and center your Ongoing Dialogue conversations on this one thing.

Why this is so super effective

You’ll find that the underlying skills of online kindness, balance, safety, wisdom, and an Ongoing Dialogue with the important adults in their lives will carry over from app to app.

So all you have to do is roll up your sleeves to dig into that first one.

And as far as kindness goes …

As far as I’m concerned it all comes back to this! So don’t be afraid to dig into examples with your kids, from their own social media feeds or yours, to springboard a conversation about what’s kind online and what’s not.

Draw the thread for them that what’s mean in person is mean online and what’s kind in person is kind online.

Doing this with real life examples is so powerful because it’s real.

And when you do this pre-emptively before anything happens and they’re in the hot seat for a mistake they made or you’re feeling emotional because someone was unkind to them, then the conversation so much easier to have and the learning is so much easier to get.

If your kids are starting to show an interest in the online world:

I have a detailed checklist for you to use. It’s super helpful and you can get it RIGHT HERE.

Galit Breen is the author of Kindness Wins, a simple, no-nonsense guide to teaching our kids how to be kind online; the TEDx Talk, “Raising a digital kid without having been one”; the online course Raise Your Digital Kid™; and the Facebook group The Savvy Parents Club. You can get her parents’ checklist for moms of new(ish) digital kids RIGHT HERE.

P.S. This is a 6 week series about raising digital kids.

Week 1 we discussed screen time limits and whether they’re helpful or harmful.

Week 2 how to keep our kids safe, but still allow them to enjoy all of the benefits that the online world has to offer.

Week 3 we discussed how to handle app asks, especially if our kids ask about an app that we’ve already heard bad things about.

And next week we will be discussing how do we stay on top of all the different ways our kids can interact online. See you then!

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Galit Breen

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