My son can’t take his eyes off my smartphone or my tablet or the television, and he’s only four months old. It terrifies me, since I make my living writing for the Internet. I know exactly what’s out there and while a lot of it’s good, a lot of is very, very bad. And I’m not the only parent that should worry.

New research conducted by Family Kids and Youth, an education research company, shows that 4 out of 10 children consider themselves “addicted to the Internet.” The trend is only increasing, as well as expanding into younger generations. Online bullying has become a buzz word, but for many kids, it’s a reality. Adults say horrible things to one another online, and to a child’s fragile ego, this virtual torture is real. They haven’t learned to “shut it off.” Teaching that is a parent’s responsibility. There’s no great trick to it.

Don’t allow your child to use Facebook or social media until you know, beyond a doubt, they are ready for it. Don’t give them a device until you know they can handle it. Maintain total access to their devices, including phones, tablets and computers. If your son or daughter insists their privacy is important, give them a diary and pen and tell them you’ll stay out of that. That might seem intrusive to some parents, but there’s such a thing as too much freedom for children, something many of today’s parents don’t realize. Kids are kids. They are not adults. You need to realize this as much as your child does. They have as many rights as you let them and no more.

To be honest, I almost feel like a hypocrite writing this article, considering I spend hours upon hours on the Internet, researching, writing, communicating and, yes, wasting time. That’s my job. Ironically, I almost never socialize online and prefer communications through texts or good old-fashioned phones calls. It strikes a good balance, I think, and has situated the Internet as a tool in my mind and not a world.

I can only hope my son makes the same distinction. In the mean time, his hands stay off. Maybe when he’s 18.

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