A Semi-Comprehensive Guide to Raising Kids in the Digital Age

"Who wants to play video games?"What’s missing from those What to Expect books is a chapter (or maybe even a whole volume) on parenting in the age of the World Wide Web. Right about now, something like: What to Expect when your Child Gets Sucked into the Matrix and their Brains Turn to Jelly, would be helpful.

I’ve done my usual exhaustive research (i.e., read a couple related articles online before getting distracted by lists of celebrities who Botox their pets), and come to the conclusion that no one really has a handle on the convergence of kids and the Internet.

Will hours of uninterrupted screen time melt their grey matter? Will the unfettered access to disturbing, factually flawed or grammatically incorrect (sometimes all at once) information turn them into bitter, deluded sociopaths? Is some nefarious crook or bored kid even now collecting their personal information in order to bully or imitate or coerce them online? When they’re grown, will they have nothing to talk about at cocktail parties but stupid cat videos?

These are questions that keep me up at night.

There was a time I thought the kid-technology combo a good thing. A guarantee there would always be someone around who would know which remote to use on which thingie. But I’m getting wise to the remote thing, and feeling a little less off my game since the VCR stopped blinking 12:00.

Oh, wait, that’s because we don’t appear to have a clock on the VCR, or even …

Hey, wha…. who took the VCR?

Anyway, I’ve kept notes and developed my own guide on parenting in the digital age. Use it in good health:

First, start when they’re young. Outlaw screens in their bedrooms. There’s the thing about obesity. And sleep deprivation. Something about blue light, melatonin and REM. I read about it. So, no screen time after 8pm.

When they argue, regale them with stories about how you had only four television channels back in the day. And cartoons only on Saturday mornings. Watch their eyes glaze over as they drop the subject. Give yourself a mental high-five. You’ve won this round.

Eventually they must acclimate to the digital age, so set up a computer station in a very public space in your home. Somewhere they can play on preapproved family-friendly sites while you monitor their activity.

Don’t kid yourself into thinking this will stop them from accessing inappropriate material online (unless you install some draconian software that blocks everything you later want to see after the kids go to bed, but can’t because you forgot the damn password).

Oh, and for that matter, don’t trust Youtube’s randomly enforced community standards. Those are baloney. Your kids can still easily access all kinds of inappropriate crap, like their favorite video game characters performing intimate acts that are probably misdemeanors in most states.

Look up a Youtube video that explains how to block Youtube from your computer and follow the instructions. Blamo. Problem solved (give yourself another mental high-five).

It might not occur to you until later, but the rule about the television in the bedroom should really include any screen. Such an oversight effectively renders your silly rule mute once your kids get their own phones, not to mention are capable of saving their own money to buy their own tablets and computers.

Okay, so they now have screens in their rooms. It’s still your cable, your cords and electrical outlets, your wireless router, which you can certainly unhook whenever you want. So unhook the Internet one night in a huff, and tell everybody to read a book. You remember books? Books are great (high fives all around).

Of course, some people’s children will simply wait until their parents are asleep to hook stuff back up and binge out on Xbox Live and Minecraft until the wee hours of the morning.

So consider an elaborate system of password changes and/or dismantling and hiding cables and little, black boxes.

Then remember your inability to remember stuff like passwords. And how hard it was to figure out how to access Youtube again. Remember you have a whole season of OITNB waiting on Netflix. Decide elaborate systems of password changes and dismantling and hiding crap is not for you.

Join all the social media channels and follow your kids. Refrain from commenting, favoriting, or liking their every post, and maybe they’ll forget you’re stalking them (If you’ve figured out how to unblock Youtube by this time, you can find a video tutorial on how to use Snapchat. Watch it when the kids aren’t around to scoff).

Briefly consider software or aps that spy on your kids’ every online move, monitor their language in texts or keyword searches, and time on social media sites. If this feels just as distasteful as sneaking a peak at someone’s diary, settle for an app that sends you an alert if your teen is driving over the speed limit, and call it good.

Show your children every news story you come across about sexting and social media bullying and the consequences.

Talk to them about your own values, about how you feel about objectification of women in the media, about images of drug use, and violence, about misleading advertising. Wear a rubber band around your wrist to snap when your voice gets shrill.

Talk to them about how you feel about pornography. When you’re tired of everyone avoiding eye contact after one of those conversations, show them Russell Brand’s take on the subject. Because somehow it’s more okay to get a lecture on pornography from a grown man sitting in bed wearing nothing but a sheet, than it is to discuss with your mom.

If you need more advice, there are plenty of other resources, like:

  • Unsolicited input from anyone over fifty who sees your kid with a tablet or phone, regardless of whether the person has ever parented children in this century. Nod and smile when they talk about taking away their technology and sending kids out to play kick-the-can until dusk.
  • Your kids’ friends are also wellsprings of advice. They’ve learned the ropes and are currently being raised with no rules whatsoever, staying up all night if they please, online with all the other upstanding citizens who are also online all night. They’ll confirm for your kids the fact that you are, in fact, a Luddite whose rules are out of sync with today’s adolescents.

There you are. Easy peasy.

Gimme a high five.


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Photo by: JD Hancock

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  1. OH, this is a fantastic post! These are all fears that I worry about ALL THE TIME! It\’s so tough to monitor screen time and electronics with kids. It stresses me out. We don\’t have screens in the kids bedrooms and try to limit the time they spend on electronics period. It\’s so tough though because it\’s EVERYWHERE! YouTube scares the heck outta me. I recently noticed that YouTube has a filter you can \”turn on\” to keep a lot of the crap away, but I\’m not sure how well it works. I would love to block it completely from the computer, but my kids would freak. I talk to my kids ad naseum about pornography and I LOVE what Russell Brand had to say about it. Awesome.

    Thanks so much for this post!!

    1. I\’m glad you liked it. I feel like we\’re bumbling around this stuff so much as parents. I want them to be able to learn to self regulate and so I vacillate between clamping down on the controls, and letting them do (almost) whatever they want. I hope we\’re not screwing them up.

  2. Yep, this is an issue in our house too. Your post was very funny, of course, but there was also a fair bit of useful stuff in it that I didn\’t actually know about, Luddite that I am. (I\’ll have to go off and learn more about Snapchat.) It was also nice to be reminded about books. I remember them from my childhood. They had pages and everything, didn\’t they?

    1. Oh, man, if you have kids, you\’ll need to learn about Snapchat. They\’re not even doing Facebook anymore.

      And yes, books. Remember? Sigh …

  3. Easy peasy, you say?
    Not an enviable task, I say.
    You\’ve been comprehensive here, but it only serves to highlight how important it is, completely non-negotiable this day in age.

    1. Well, that easy peasy was considerably tongue-in-cheek. We haven\’t figured it out to any degree, but that doesn\’t stop us from trying!

  4. I tried the TV blocking thing ONCE and pretty much blocked EVERYTHING. Then I couldn\’t figure out how to put it back to the way it was (even though the passcode was 1234). Genius. I still haven\’t figured out Twitter or Instagram…