What To Tell Your Kids About The Internet
December 11, 2015
Okay, right off the bat, I know what you are thinking;
‘How can I tell my kids anything about the Internet? They already know way more than I will ever know!’
It’s true that kids and teens know more than we old people do, about computers as well as the Internet. When you think you know less about something, even if you are the parent, you naturally feel reluctant to share your opinion.
But sometimes you forget that it is not always ‘what’ you know, but rather ‘how’ you understand it.
I am sure that you wouldn’t presume to tell your Dentist, what steps are necessary, to perform a root canal. They have superior knowledge about roots, canals, gums, and other stuff, while you just have your mouth. But even with all that expertise, Dentists are lost without your direction.
You are the one that has to tell your Dentist which tooth hurts, when the freezing is starting to kick in, and whether you want bubble gum or banana fluoride. There are things that trump knowledge or expertise, and in this case, it is your perspective.
Only you have the wisdom of your ‘insider information’, and it is up to you to communicate your perspective. It is much the same when you are a parent. While your child may surpass you, in knowledge or achievements, you must never underestimate the power you possess, in passing down your wisdom, kindness, and perspective.
These days, it is extra important that parents realize this applies to the Internet as well.
While you may not know as much about the Internet specifically, you do know the Internet is just another part of life, and like many other things, is run by people with ideas, goals, dreams, and agendas. As a parent, you are in the fortunate position to know way more about life than your child, and it is a great challenge to communicate the important stuff well, as your child appreciates clear supportive messages.
We all use the internet every day, for many, or even most, of the things we do. Since its invention 25 years ago, it has today become irrevocably embedded, into how we live and do things. And for those younger than 25, dubbed ‘The Internet Has Always Been Here Generation’, it is hard to imagine what life was like, before we were wired.
When you don’t have the perspective of living on both sides of the time line- i.e. pre and post Internet, it may be difficult to understand what all of us old people are worried about. It is similar for other large societal shifts, affecting multiple generations, all at once. Big events can change the cultural narrative so much, that those born in its wake, without any real sense of history or context, view current events as the way it has always been.
This may be one reason, messages taught to younger generations, feel like they are downloading too slowly.
If you tell a child that Social Media is making them become more distracted, they will both remind you that the Internet is changing the adult brain too, and ask you why you don’t just embrace multitasking as an okay substitute. Sure, it’s slightly less efficient, but it feels way more productive and fun.
Telling a teenager that they are ignoring the people in their immediate physical vicinity while using their smartphone, automatically undervalues whomever they are communicating with, or what ‘work’, perhaps even school work, they may be researching at that time.
Smartphones have become too powerful for accurate stereotyping. They are now so powerful, they are capable of generating a personal audio or video file, editing the file, and then mass distributing this high quality ‘media content’, to thousands of followers on several platforms, in a matter of seconds.
And even with all that power, a majority of kids and teens are using the Internet for productive and positive reasons, and very few get into trouble, or become addicted.
There is however, a very large grey area, between safe and educational Internet use, and Internet abuse or addiction. In this grey area, there can be problems of episodic addiction, isolation, as well as difficulties arising, from the people or images, a child or teen is gravitating towards.
The Internet has dramatically changed how we behave and interact in almost every way. How we wake up in the morning, use the bathroom, make a meal, go to a restaurant, plan a trip, brag, or even fight, are all experienced more and more through this amazing electronic medium.
And that makes the Internet a very powerful thing. If information was a drug, the Internet would be your in-house cocaine dealer. And the Internet CAN become highly addictive, if it is not ingested in the correct way.
It is the job of parents, as the adults of the family, to use their experience, and in this case, perspective, to talk with their kids about what the Internet is really all about.
This blog was going to get pretty long, so in Part 2 we will continue discussing the following related topics:
The Internet Is An Incredible Tool
Things On The Internet Aren’t Automatically True
The Internet Is Filled With Adult Content
Balancing Internet Use With Other Things You Enjoy
How The Internet Can Rewire Your Brain
Some Other Thoughts For Parents To Consider
So I hope you decide to come back for What To Tell Your Kids About The Internet, Part 2.
Simon Trepel, MD
Simon Trepel, MD FRCPC, is a practicing Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, in Winnipeg, Canada. He is an Assistant Professor, at the University Of Manitoba, in the Faculty of Medicine, and the Co-founder of the GDAAY Clinic. He is, more importantly, the proud Father of 2 beautiful Daughters. He writes in his spare time about things he knows something about, and occasionally about things he doesn’t; like Yoga, and Italian flavored coffees. His 2 daughters are becoming enmeshed with their iPads.
Check out his Blog, called Simon Says Psych Stuff, at