“Should you be your child’s friend?” – One of those never-ending coffee table debates that parents have every once in a while. More likely than not, you’ll find more parents saying a vehement “No” rather than a “Yes”. Even more likely than not, the “Yays” will convert to “Nays” as the child grows older.
To the parents who answer “No” ask now, “Should you be your child’s Facebook friend?” And more likely than not, they are going to answer, “Yes.” Quickly followed by, “But I won’t interfere, just to keep a watch.”
As I dig deeper into the pros and cons of having kids access the internet, I am counter-intuitively convinced that we are getting this all wrong. There isn’t just a list of haves and have nots and finding an in-between. There is a space beyond. A space which our superficial arguments don’t let us enter.
Yes, for every “Don’t talk to a stranger, online.” there is a “Are we teaching our kids to be distrustful?” For every “Kids are becoming unhealthy because of their screen habits.”, there is a common sense study that says, “screen time and health are independent issues“. For every “Facebook is a menace” there is a “It is even good to be on facebook to develop social skills necessary for interacting in the digital age“. So on and so forth.
I’m not going to talk about the dos and don’ts of online safety for your child. One google search* and you will be bombarded with the same 10 tips and I don’t have an 11th one to offer.
Of course, we need to protect our child from inappropriate content because two clicks from a search for “protecting your child online” lies this. Yes, you should be scared, s#!t scared, of your child’s online activity because a digital child is enough to lure in thousands of paedophiles. And even without that, you don’t know what the next fad amongst this young, curious lot is going to be.
But, just like you don’t keep your kid from cycling because he can meet with an accident, you shouldn’t keep your child away from the Internet because she could fall prey to online predators. We, the generation that invented the Internet and can’t live without it ourselves know that it is educative and the need of this time and age. Our child has to know how to use the net and be a part of the social media to fit in socially, professionally and just generally. Is it really a far stretch to say that knowing how to use the Internet is as important as Math, Grammar and Science?
It’s time we stop passing the buck to the world outside as a dangerous place to let our kids venture out into. We have to accept the wide world and its web as just another challenge in parenting that our parents didn’t have to deal with. Like in all things parenting, like in all things life, we have to find the balance.
Because beyond balance is bliss.
It is for us to open the doors to this bliss for the next generation. Or maybe, after the initial due diligence, we need to let our kids explore and just be. Let me give you a few examples — each one, from an adult’s point of view, more mind-boggling and humbling than the other.
This lady let her 10-year olds be, even if unintentionally, and found out that they are great teachers (and students) and are making the most effective use of YouTube to impart and take in knowledge.
Overlook a teenager’s basic need to use slang and you find the most prolific of writers amongst them, as this father found out.
From politics to photography and film-making organizations for kids have found them to be both enterprising and creative.
And this is the one that takes the cake hands down.
Sugata Mitra, head of the Reasearch Department of NIIT, a company with a market cap of $2 Billion is famous for his ‘Hole in the Wall‘ project. He put an internet-enabled computer in a wall of a slum and just watched as kids came by and used it — no teacher, no instructions. Some of his findings are fascinating because they are both unexpected and enabling.
In short, these kids learnt how to use the computer without knowing it is one —
They know what that word does. They don’t know how to pronounce F-I-L-E, but they know that within it are options of saving and opening up files …
They invent their own terminology for what’s going on. For example, they call the pointer of the mouse sui, which is Hindi for needle.
You’d think that there were enough adults who got it too. But, Mitra contends, “by the time we are 16, we are taught to want teachers, taught that we cannot learn anything without teachers.”
I encourage you to read the full interview. There are very interesting findings in there, especially the one which shows how students of a middle-class school learnt about viscosity.
Gone are the days when we can be proud of our two-year old’s efficient use of the tablet. If children with no exposure can get so far without knowing ABC, there’s no real surprise that the toddler’s mind adapts and uses. There’s no resisting the digital onslaught because dare I say, it is a part of evolution.
As parents now, we need to create that conducive environment where our child can let his creativity loose. Protecting our children from Facebook and Instagram is a given now, we need to look beyond.
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*Fine! I did one and here are some very resourceful websites have found. Cybersmart has it wonderfully categorised – Young Kids, Kids, Teens, Parents, and Schools. This Huffington Post post has a long list of resources that you could use. You could also try ‘The adventures of Kara, Winston and the SMART crew“