I’ll admit it. Before the stay at home orders, and schools closing, I was very against my kids on the Internet. Let me be clear, “screen time,” a whole different story. They’ve logged plenty of hours on Netflix, Disney+, Hulu. You name it, they’ve watched it (age-appropriate, of course). But my children are still small, ages 7 and 3, so there’s no texting, no emailing, no surfing the Internet. But what felt like overnight, the world changed, and so did my parenting style.
Almost immediately, my older daughter was invited into a Kids Messenger app, which, of course, concerned me. But in this new world, with very little ability to interact with their peers, it seemed like something I should look into. Once I felt it was a safe plan, I reiterated all the internet safety rules that everyone knows; don’t talk to strangers, don’t give out your name, don’t tell anyone where you live. This app is just one on one texting with children I approve of, but you just never know.
As she used this app, I was able to observe all interactions to make sure they were appropriate, but I noticed something. With all the concerns of privacy and stranger danger, I didn’t even think about etiquette. I watched as my daughter incessantly texted friends, without waiting for a response. Just inundating them with requests to play games, chat, or video chat. And when a friend did say, “I can’t talk right now,” I read the chain of my normally very polite (I think, I hope!) daughter pester her friend to keep chatting with her, I had to step in.
We had a good talk about what was appropriate to say to our friends, and how it’s important to respect their requests when they don’t feel like talking. And when our conversation was over, my daughter said something eye-opening to me. She said, “I just didn’t know.” And you know what, she was right. I was so caught up in making sure she wasn’t putting herself in danger, I didn’t even think about the fact that she too had been thrust into an environment she wasn’t used to, so of course, she needed some ground rules.
We talked for a while, and came up with these simple rules of “etiquette” when texting with our friends:
1. Respect your friends’ feelings. I think adults know all too well, it’s very easy to forget that there’s a person behind the words on a screen. Everyone knows a “Blackberry Bully.” So it was important for me to remind my child that there’s a person behind the words. If they don’t want to play or don’t feel like chatting, you have to respect their boundaries, just as you would in person.
2. Every family has different rules and different levels of what is appropriate. If you hear a friend use a word you aren’t comfortable with, tell them you don’t like it (and then tell a parent).
3. Don’t just pop up on a screen. This one made me laugh a lot. On the specific app my daughter uses, you can video chat. As a parent whose house MAYBE isn’t as clean as it normally is during this time, I know I wouldn’t like a surprise “digital pop in” from my daughter’s friend, so I don’t think their parent would either. Send a message, ask if it’s a good time to video chat, and back to #1, if they say no, respect their wishes.
I was not prepared for this thrust into the digital world, and I don’t know that I’ll allow my daughter to keep the app once she can see her friends live and in person. But if this time has taught me anything, it’s important to adapt to the situation we are currently in. And no one is more adaptable than a mother. Stay safe!