We get it – parenting is hard at the best of times. School is back and you’re busy packing lunches and managing an ever-changing schedule of sports training, musical rehearsals and birthday parties; while making sure everyone is where they need to be.

And parenting in the digital age is even harder with a growing list of digital decisions to be made: when should you get them a phone? How much time playing video games is too much? What apps should you let them use, and how?

Don’t fret – every parent is going through these same thoughts right now. There’s lots of resources available online. After this article, check out ‘technology‘ on our site, we have lots more tips. Go to this article if you have concerns with online bullying.

But, to start off, the best way to keep everyone safe is for you to have a conversation with your kids on making the right online choices. Starting this conversation now opens up the lines of communication between you and your kids. So when your kids have a digital, or tech related problem, they’ll hopefully come to you first (rather than an online forum!).

5 tips for starting a digital discussion with your kids:

1) Stick with what works. Typically, you can employ the same parenting style for your kids’ online activities as you do offline. If you find your child responds best to a negotiated agreement, create a contract that you can both sign. Or, maybe your child just needs to know the basic rules. In that case, you can establish them early when you first buy a mobile device for him or her.

2) The old adage your kids will “do as you do, not as you say,” is as true online as it is offline. Try to be a good role model. If you set time restrictions on when your child can use social media or be online (i.e., no texting after 10:00 pm), modelling that same behaviour makes a big difference. If you want your child to be civil online, model civility and respect in your texts to him or her.

3) Engage early and establish norms. Data suggests parents should engage online with their children as soon as they are on social media, by friending them as soon as they join Facebook or following them on Instagram when they sign up. It gets harder to do so if you wait. While this is not surprising, it is worth noting that just as you lay the foundation for dialogue and conversation offline with your children early, you have to lay that foundation early online. Even before they are on social media, talk to them about technology as a whole. It can help lay the groundwork for future conversations.

4) Seize key moments. There are many natural times to have these conversations: when they get their first mobile phone (it’s a good time to establish ground rules), when your child turns 13 and is old enough to join Facebook, Instagram and other social media services, or when your child gets a driver’s license (it’s a good times to discuss the importance of not texting and driving).

5) Ask your children to teach you. Not on Instagram? Maybe you’re interested in trying a streaming music service? If your children are already familiar with these services, they can be an excellent resource. The conversation can also serve as an opportunity to talk about issues of safety, privacy and security. For example, maybe you can ask them questions about privacy settings as you set up your own Facebook account. And, as most parents know all too well, your child will likely appreciate the opportunity to teach you.

This list is only a start and it may not fit the needs of your family exactly. The important thing is that you’re having the conversation, and starting a digital discussion with your kids.

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