From the beginning of pregnancy through early childhood, parenting is exciting, exhausting, overwhelming, perplexing and rewarding - usually all at once. And what better time to be a parent than now, when you can access all the information you need, find an understanding ear instantly and share your child’s milestones with loved ones far and near, all thanks to the internet.
But are we considering the legacy we’re creating for our children? Is it a lasting tribute to their first years or a burden that they’ll resent? This parents’ guide to digital early years looks at:
- What’s safe and acceptable to share about your family
- When to introduce technology to your child and how to set guidelines and limits
- How to lead by example, develop good online habits and be aware of problems
Free download in PDF format.
“They will be the first generation whose every milestone can be captured and shared without boundaries or time limits. How will that look by the time they become parents or senior citizens? And what’s the best practice for today’s parents?”
Imagine a digital identity that spans an entire lifetime, from the first ultrasound scan picture through childhood scribblings, graduation pictures, digital wedding invitations and every picture, post or piece of digital content that encapsulates a life.
This is the legacy of today’s children. They will be the first generation whose every milestone can be captured and shared without boundaries or time limits. How will that look by the time they become parents or senior citizens? And what’s the best practice for today’s parents who have no digital touchstone to guide them?
From pregnancy websites to tell-all mommy blogs, we have more opportunities than ever to learn and share about all the scary, fun, big and little things that come with expecting and raising children.
It can be reassuring to see that others are experiencing the same wonders of pregnancy, trials of the toddler years and all the laughter and tears of parenting. Facebook, Skype and other tools keep far-flung family up-to-date while providing invaluable support in our increasingly fragmented society. Today’s moms and dads have traded old-fashioned pride for ‘sharenting,’ while children practically enter the world as fully formed digital citizens. Technology that has enthralled us is nothing more than a way of life for them.
For their part, older kids are e-mailing, instant messaging, posting, tweeting, chatting, watching, playing and using the vast resources of the web for their school work and social needs. Whereas most of us can remember the first clunky car phones, the kid who can’t use a mobile device is as rare as the one who can identify an Etch-aSketch. But do they - and do we - entirely grasp the impact of our digital identities?
We’re yet to see how all our clicking, tapping and uploading toward total connectivity will play out. But one thing’s for sure: once you’re online, there’s no going back.
Welcome to the “sharenting” generation. Parenting today can often mean recording and sharing your son’s or daughter’s life from ultrasound images during pregnancy to first steps to the first day at school. Here’s our field guide for parents on how to share their joy and introduce their children to the internet, safely.
The first baby picture used to be a beaming mom and dad showing off their newborn to the world. Today, babies make their digital debut through grainy ultrasound images that parents or grandparents can’t resist sharing.
The world knows that your baby is a boy, thanks to Twitter. The Instagrammed ultrasound photo shows him sucking his thumb. Your Facebook post gives his due date as August 28, so he’ll either be one of the oldest or youngest in his class when he gets to school - and that’s all before he’s been born, much less before you start shopping for his first lunch box.
Increasingly, kids have a presence online well before they actually come into the world. Sometimes it’s just a tasteful announcement from excited expectant parents, sometimes it’s a day-byday account of every kick, hiccup and expanding-belly photo. Your child will establish themselves online someday anyway, so what difference does it make if you’re giving them a head start?
Chances are, not much. When they’re older, most children probably won’t care that a black-and-white ultrasound photo of them looking like a small alien exists somewhere in cyberspace.
But it’s at least worth having a chat with others about what is or isn’t acceptable to share; your parents, for instance, may start posting about the anticipated arrival if they assume you’ve already done so. You may want to exercise caution in sharing before the baby is born, at least in the early part of a pregnancy. All expectant parents dread the worst happening, and posts on blogs and social sites might complicate matters if any problems arise.
Likewise, pregnancies elicit all kinds of reactions that you can’t always foresee; friends or relatives who have struggled to become parents may find your joyous news hard to take, even if they’re happy for you. Remember that you can’t anticipate how things may be interpreted online, and content can be difficult or impossible to remove.
Parental pride is a powerful emotion. Moms and dads feel compelled to share the news about first steps, first words and those ever-so-cute but embarrassing moments. But how private is the information you share on the web?
Share what you like, bearing in mind your children - or their future employers - might not appreciate it later.
Birth to toddler
Once your perfect baby arrives, every relative with internet access will be clamoring to see whose nose she’s inherited and how chubby her knees are. And after months of waiting, you’ll likely be more than willing to oblige.
Gone are the days of paper birth announcements and hospital-issued photos of scrunchy-faced newborns swaddled in a generic pink or blue blanket. Parents can now tailor exactly how - and how frequently - they want to introduce their newborns, from twitpics to entire photoshoots shared on Tumblr. But hold your hashtags: do you know who will own the rights to those photos, videos and other information once they’re online? Or what sites such as Facebook can do with your content once you’ve agreed to their terms and conditions?
Furthermore, have you checked your privacy settings to control who can or can’t access information about your child? Or maybe you just want to share certain posts with friends and family so that work colleagues or contacts, for example, aren’t left with the impression that your professionalism has gone out with the dirty diapers.
Share what you like, bearing in mind your children - or their future employers - might not appreciate it later. Also your friends, especially those who don’t have children, will only tolerate so much. No one wants to know about your baby’s bodily functions, no matter how hilarious it seems when you’re sleep deprived and your nerves are shot.
AVG isn’t here to tell you how to parent, but we do have a few friendly tips for striking the right balance when putting your kids online.
Read terms and conditions
Before posting about your child, consider who owns the content and how it could be used.
Think about the future
What are the future implications of posting this image/video/ anecdote?
Set up a Google alert for your child
And search online regularly for your child to check and monitor what information becomes public.
Take an interest and set an example
As your child gets older, ensure their online privacy and safety by taking an interest and providing guidance on the consequences of ‘oversharing.’ Lead by example and keep communication open with your kids.
Establish closed networks
Share your content with a close circle of friends and family, then set up groups on social networking sites so you only post to those who are in your ‘trusted’ network. Can anyone you don’t know (friends of your friends or others) access the information you’re sharing?
It may seem hard to believe when your baby is only approaching the two-year mark, but the next few years will be a whirlwind of discoveries as they start to notice your smartphone can entertain them on long car trips and grandpa and grandma realize they can read them stories from a computer screen.
Tell them to let you know if anything they come across online scares them or makes them feel uncomfortable.
No matter how much you want to shield your young children from developing a screen addiction, sooner or later they’re going to come in contact with an aunt’s phone, an older cousin’s game console or any of the other technology that enchants youngsters.
Nurseries may not be considering incorporating iPads just yet, but it’s a safe bet many preschools will have them, along with basic desktops that get kids used to using a mouse and keyboard.
So what kind of digital parent will you be? Do you want your child to engage with simple programs that will equip them with computer skills as early as possible? Or do you believe devices inhibit patience, creativity and problem-solving skills? Maybe you’re somewhere in between, happy to let them babble on FaceTime or watch the occasional Sesame Street while hoping to delay the inevitable crawl toward autonomous internet use.
Either way, it’s best to play it safe by setting up parental controls and internet filters before they discover how to click through from a YouTube clip of Chuggington to something unsavory.
It’s certainly not too early to set limits on how much screen time they’re allowed, but nor should you shy away from talking to your preschool-aged children about being careful when they’re online. Without planting ideas in their heads, tell them to let you know if anything they come across online scares them or makes them feel uncomfortable.
Social media isn’t designed for younger children. But there are social games aimed at youngsters that allow them to make new friends and even chat with people live online. But do they know who they are chatting to? Do you?
Once kids are at school, using the internet for homework inevitably tumbles into playing online games, social media and tentative steps towards digital independence. So now’s a good time to establish good online habits, starting with virus protection and parental controls.
Keep communication open and trust your children to do the right thing. They won’t always, of course, and they probably won’t talk to you about some things you’d rather they didn’t see. But it’s important they feel they can and know that you’re paying attention, whether that means keeping computers or other devices in a common space, such as the living room, or insisting on certain rules when they’re away from home.
Apart from children’s online games that have a chat option, most social media isn’t designed for younger children. But that doesn’t mean they won’t find ways to create a profile and connect with their real-life friends; nor does it mean they’ll actually know everyone who follows or friend-requests them.
Reiterate that people aren’t always who they say they are online, and insist your children never speak to or meet with anyone you haven’t approved of yet. Consider whether your child is actually old enough to have a social account (Facebook’s policy bars users under 13 years old, but how many kids obey that?) and talk to them about what is or isn’t safe to share online. Also tell them that whatever they say or put online is there to stay, so they should try to be as kind and respectful as they would be in person.
Good digital habits and precautionary steps at home are one thing. What happens when your child steps through the front door and onto the school bus? With a mobile device, they take the internet wherever they go.
If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, or may be a cyberbully, don’t expect their school to settle it. It’s your responsibility. Keep an eye on whether your child seems frightened or anxious. Get advice online or from your child’s doctor or teacher.
Remember being 9 years old and finding your sister’s stash of Seventeen Magazine, the one you weren’t supposed to pick up much less flick through? Chances are this was the least of your youthful transgressions.
Now imagine what your pre-teens can get a hold of with a few quick clicks.
Just because your little girl still has tea parties and your young son seems more interested in playing Flight Path than Grand Theft Auto doesn’t mean kids on their school bus are so innocent.
Particularly with mobile phones, plenty of inappropriate content can get into the wrong hands, whether or not you’ve taken precautionary steps at home.
You might want your child to have a cell phone for emergencies, but do they really need their own smartphone or tablet, which could easily be lost, stolen or broken? In any case, be sure to password or passcode protect all devices and accounts and talk to kids about the dangers of giving away this information, even to their close friends. A hacked account won’t necessarily lead to cyberbullying, but it could make things tough for your child.
Also keep tabs on their activity by checking the browser history and Googling them to see what information other people can see. Kids on Twitter or other social sites often don’t realize that information they’re making public - such as where they live or go to school - shouldn’t be there for anyone to find. The same goes for photos uploaded to sites such as Flickr, where embedded data can pinpoint the picture’s location on a map.
Worlds of fun
A virtual world where kids aged 6-14 can play games and activities, including creating cartoon penguin avatars. One of a number of so-called massively multiplayer online games (MMOG), Club Penguin has millions of members around the world who can interact simultaneously, but moderators patrol the game to prevent players making inappropriate comments or revealing personal information. Joining is free but paid memberships enable players to make virtual purchases, such as bigger igloos for their penguin avatars. www.clubpenguin.com is part of the popular Disney kids’ site, www.disney.com
Nickelodeon’s site for children and younger teens, where they can play games with Spongebob Squarepants, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other characters from their favorite television shows. Most games are free but some are available as apps. www.nick.com
With more than 80 million registered users around the world, Moshi Monsters lets kids create and customize pets, which they can then use to navigate around the game’s virtual world. Like other MMOGs, it combines social networking and games in a safe, child-oriented format. The site lists fun, education and safety as its core values and requires parental consent for users to activate an account. Moshi Monsters is free to use, but paid memberships give players additional options. www.moshimonsters.com
Home to Dr. Seuss, Sesame Street, Dinosaur Train and other shows loved by youngsters, PBS Kids is a one-stop bonanza of games, clips and educational activities. Kids can play a number of free games or download apps, while parents and teachers can print materials and find project ideas. www.pbskids.org
It’s unlikely your child will stumble upon the wrong kind of website, start an online bullying campaign or share your PayPal details with everyone on the playground. The toothy grinning toddler picture you shared on Facebook is unlikely to be appropriated for a baby food ad. And you’re not going to lose a lifelong friend because you got carried away bragging about how gifted and talented your 3-yearold is (or maybe you will). The point is, these things can happen, so don’t let your own technological ignorance or cavalier attitude get the best of you. It’s a big digital world out there but it’s not all boogeymen and bad guys, so just apply your best parental judgment and make the most of it.
With a few tips, you can make the experience even better for everyone concerned.