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Disconnect to Connect: Tips for Building Relationships with Kids and Keeping Them Safe Online

I was raised in the 80s so I spent a lot of my free time playing outside and having good old fashion outdoor fun. My parents eventually bought an Atari then a Sega Genesis and as much fun as they were, my siblings and I had more fun riding our bikes and playing outside with our friends. Today, neighborhoods look like a ghost town. Kids don’t play outside anymore.

COVID-19 has forced a lot of parents to find more creative ways to entertain kids at home. If that includes allowing them to use electronics, don’t forget about the importance of monitoring what they are doing online. Talk to your kids about Internet safety and being aware of online predators. Keep in mind that the more we are individually connected to our electronics as parents, the more we become disconnected from our children.

When I first became a parent, I purchased lots of books for my son. I was so happy to have a bookshelf full of books. In my mind, he was going to grow up reading all the time and have a love for reading. He didn’t have a TV in his room and didn’t get a game console until he was about 8 years old. Those plans I had prior to my first child being born flew out the door when my second child was born almost 4 years after the first. Life throws lots of curveballs at you and there are times when I can hit them out of the park and there are other times when I feel like they smack me in the face.

Even though my kids are involved in things like sports, dance, karate, and music, they get bored when they are home. As life got busier for my husband and I, we found other ways to keep our kids entertained. That eventually meant purchasing tablets, game consoles, and putting a tv in their room. I felt guilty, but I’ll be honest, those items allowed me to buy time for myself, especially when my daughter was born almost 4 years after my second son was born.

Despite my kids having electronics, I do a lot of things to connect and build relationships with them. Some of them include:

  • Cooking together

  • Having office hours with them for fun where I send them a zoom link or have them come into my at home office (the dining room table) to discuss what’s going on in their classes, missing assignments, and whatever it is they would like to talk about.

  • 1-on-1 COVID-19 safe mommy-and-me time:

- quick trips to get ice-cream

- mommy-and-me bike rides through our neighborhood

- cuddling up in my bed to watch a show on an early Sunday morning after my

husband goes to work.

- mommy-and-me lunch breaks in the park

- Drive-in movie dates

- Playing video games together

- Learning something new from one of my kids (ex. Teaching me how to play the game

  • Arts n Crafts (painting, making jewelry, drawing pictures, etc.)

  • Randomly tell them things like: “I love you”, “I’m proud of you”, “You mean so much to me”, “You make me smile”, “You are beautiful inside and out”, “You are special”, and “I like being your mom/dad.” Sometimes we assume children know we feel this way and don’t say it. Be intentional about telling your kids something special.

Recently, I started talking to my kids about online safety, human trafficking, and social media safety tips. Some of those include:

  • Never use your real name when playing an online video game

  • Do not befriend people you don’t know when playing online games

  • Don’t give out your name, address, city, or other identifying information to online strangers

  • Be careful if someone sends you a private message through a game because it could be a predator pretending to be a kid

  • Never send a nude picture of yourself to anyone online; even though my sons are 12 and 8 we watched the movie Disconnect which led to a discussion about online safety, stepping away from electronics for a while, and the importance of talking as a family. This movie is Rate R so please watch it first if your kids are young.

  • For additional online safety tips check out Norton’s Kids and Social Media Tips for Parents

  • Human trafficking predators prey on kids online, so never talk to strangers online and give out your information; some of these predators pretend to be kids and will do their best to trick you into building a relationship with them online.

  • For additional tips on how to talk to kids about human trafficking click here.

Positive parenting is not perfect parenting. It is knowing that parents will make mistakes and continue to learn from them. It is knowing how to be flexible with your children. It is reminding yourself that raising kids today is very different from raising them in the 80, 90s, and even early 2000s. Today, there are so many more distractions that can keep us disconnected from our families. Think about it, today, we have access to hundreds of movies and shows, the ability to connect with other people online, and instant access to tons of information. These things make it difficult for some families to connect.

I talk to my kids about things that my parents talked to me about at a much older age, but it’s because I want to beat YouTube and Google by providing them with the information the way I want them to hear it instead of the way they might learn online. Whatever you do, don’t judge other parents for something they are doing that you’re not doing. If you want to support a friend or family member offer suggestions instead of criticism. Judging them will lead to additional disconnections at a time when we need to be connected most.

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