In one of his recent reflections on family life, Pope Francis declared that, “a family that chooses to watch TV or play with their smartphones rather than talk at the dinner table is hardly a family”.
As Christians, he said, we have a special vocation to foster family togetherness and that a meal at the family table is a time to share “not just food, but also affection, stories, events”.
But, as parents know, it’s not that easy to get the whole family together for dinner every night, particularly during school term when there are work commitments, kids’ homework and after school activities to consider. And, in this era of “digital disruptions”, it can be even more difficult to keep our kids away from the screens, particularly when so much of their education is technology-related.
Finding the balance can be hard, for both children and adults.
And while we might be able to turn the devices off to enjoy dinner, the real challenge lies in ensuring our children behave appropriately and stay safe when they are online.
“Leaving the kids to their own devices” has a completely different meaning today, compared with when many of us were young.
It can be even harder during the Christmas summer break when kids have more time on their hands and parents may be back at work before school resumes.
Which is why, parenting expert, Michael Grose (parentingideasclub.com.au), says that one of the important family conversations we should have with our children is about how they behave online – so they don’t make mistakes when we are not around.
He has devised five simple questions for kids to keep in mind, before they put a comment or post online.
Is this worth posting?
The relatively impersonal nature of social media means that we can post information and pictures with relative anonymity. Also its immediacy means that we can do so without much thought. This means that kids need to be very critical about what they see online. ‘Is this accurate?’ and ‘Is this worth posting?’ are two valid questions children can ask when they read posts placed by others.
Have you taken a big breath?
A child who says the first thing that comes to mind is sure to put plenty of people offside. “Think before you speak” is the type of message that every child should have rattling around in his head. The same principle applies to social media. Just because a child or young person thinks something doesn’t mean they post it. “Take a big breath” may just about be the most important message to give your kids about social media.
So, do you want the principal to see this?
An invitation to a teenage birthday party posted on social media is one way to get more attendees than you bargained for. The viral nature of social media means that kids should only post messages and photos that they want to be spread and read by a large audience.
How does this post make you feel?
We need to teach kids that not every post needs to be commented upon and not every thought needs to be shared, particularly when they are angry. Teaching them to walk away and then to step back in when they’ve calmed down is perhaps the most important communication lesson of all. It is very relevant to social media as emotions are often the last thing on many people’s minds when they haphazardly post a message.
How will you fix this?
Social media, just like any social space, requires kids to behave ethically and with kindness. When kids overstep the mark and post hurtful things then it’s fair that they fix their mistakes and apologise. It’s reasonable that we teach our children to act with tolerance and with empathy online, and if hurtful messages or images are posted on social media then they should try to repair relationships, just as they should offline.