3 Conversations to Have with Your Kids about Digital Consequences

Walking into the computer room at Fidgets2Widgets that’s affectionately nicknamed after Minecraft’s Nether realm, I noticed muted giggling taking place in a corner at one of the computers. Two third grade girls were flushed and smiling. I heard a couple of phrases that included words like “yummy, so much fun, awesome.”

“What are you two up to?” I questioned.

“We’re going to share the most amazing dessert at snack time,” Molly responded.

“A seven-layer cake,” Megan giggled.

My furrowed brow deepened and my investigation began in earnest. As it turned out, one of the girls had memorized her mother’s credit card number and in her generosity, ordered a cake for her friends from an online company. In the spontaneity of the moment, the lines between right and wrong had become blurred. Neither girl had any sense of concern.

Everyday, I am starting to read real stories in the news about youth who act with carelessness and irresponsibility online. From the young men whose Harvard University acceptances were rescinded after creating a secret, hateful Facebook page, to a young NSA-contracted woman who, depending on your point of view,  either inadvertently copied classified information to a flash drive or tried to enact an act of espionage. Today, a verdict of involuntary manslaughter was handed down to a young woman who as a  teenage girl sent texts encouraging  her boyfriend to kill himself. Locally, several seniors were charged with child pornography after soliciting nude pictures of their underage girlfriends.

What do these all-too-common news story tell us? Our children must develop strength of character online and offline.There is no such thing as true digital privacy and life-altering consequences are starting to emerge. Online play is no longer innocent.  As parents, guardians, or trusted adults to the young people in our lives, we have a responsibility to help them grow into good digital citizens—people who can discern right from wrong even from behind a keyboard or in  front of a screen. If your child is old enough to be on the internet, they are old enough to have these conversations with you. Here are three things to keep in mind when talking to your child.

  1. Use of Information: Do you own rights to the information you are sharing? If not, get permission. If it is yours and yours alone, make sure you are using the information ethically. Talk about ethics with you child and create a family honor system.

2. Hurting or Helping Actions? Will others be empowered by your actions or disempowered? Are your actions permanent or temporary? Will there be short term or long term consequences?

3. Right from Wrong: As real world consequences can be imposed on your child’s actions, make sure they have a lawful creed as well as an ethical one. As your child becomes a teen, make sure they know what actions could cross a line of no return.

There are a lot of articles and blog posts out there assigning blame to parents, the kids, Millennials as a generation, technology, and anything else you can think of. The truth of who to blame is neither one nor all of these, but that isn’t the point of this post. The point is to draw attention to one way we can help our kids to avoid finding themselves the subject of a news article and jail time—communication. We can no longer assume children will learn these lessons on their own. It is our job to be a good example to them, yes, but it’s time to have the hard conversations about right and wrong, about being safe online, and treating others as we want to be treated. These are simple conversations on the surface, but we all know they can be harder to have a sit-down serious talk over. But clearly there is a need for it. Fidgets2Widgets is here to empower and support in whatever ways we can, both with you and your children!

The time is now. Stand up—or rather, sit down and have these conversations with your children today.

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