Last week I was a speaker at a conference at the Sheraton. I was speaking to school administrators, principals and managers across Pune about how to get the students ready to face the digital age. I told about 200 academicians about how we should strengthen their logical thinking and analytical ability so that they can handle the future that we are totally unable to predict. They loved it and even after my half hour was up, they all wanted me to talk even more.
That got me thinking, I should share that line of thought with everyone, aren’t we?
What do we have to do? We are working on making the children tough outside and smart inside. Here I would like to add in that we also need to make them strong inside. Why? Because that is how our children will be able to deal with the negatives of being in a digitally connected world! After all you and me, we cannot be shields for our children all the time. We have to enable them to fight their battles (the internal ones, the temptations, the peer pressures) on their own. And we have to do it very seriously because the ones who aren’t strong are easy prey to so many pitfalls that are out there.
I am sure that by now you all must have heard about the BLUE WHALE dare that has been going around on the internet for a while. It supposedly offers challenges that you have to fulfil and prove that you have actually completed (by posting videos or photos). It starts with easy harmless ones like watching a certain movie at a certain time of the day and as they progress, they become more and more dangerous and harmful. The final one is where the person is asked to commit suicide. Of course, this is what I have heard, and there is no way to even verify this!
Yesterday, my son who is in the 6th grade told me that a friend of his (from his class, so another 6th grader) received a link for the Blue Whale Dare. Luckily, we had discussed this two nights ago at dinner. So he knew what it was. Then he told me that the whole thing was silly and there was no point doing any of the challenges. (As a mother, you can only imagine how relieved I was to hear that coming directly from him!)
Now, of course you should talk to your children about this. But, what are you going to tell them? We’ll discuss that shortly. The problem is – something like this is going to keep coming up. Today it’s the Blue Whale, yesterday it was the Dark Web and tomorrow it will be something else. Things are happening faster than we can predict and faster than we can keep up with and at younger ages than you anticipated too. You can have active firewalls set up in your house and all (I will tell you about those too) but you have to teach the kids to be SENSIBLE – that is the need of the hour. We were all at that age about 30 years ago. We have to teach the children today and get them ready for a future 20 years hence.. and we have absolutely no idea how it’s going to be.
What we need to understand is that the bad has always existed with the good. The necessity is to become strong, smart and capable of making good choices. Yes, that’s what we have to do, don’t we? We can’t eliminate the bad from their lives. We want them to grow up, study and work hard, maybe go to a big city or another country for more education and experiences. All these things are going to be everywhere. With the digital age they just have quicker access to the good, bad and ugly. But remember, that it has always been there.
The challenge here is that they are more into the online world than you are and they always will be. Even if you don’t give them internet access, they are still connected to so many other people who are easily connected to this world. Isolating them from the digital world or any part of our world is really not a solution, nor a balanced or scalable approach. So instead of building walls around them (that can easily be broken! – What do you think is the first thing that children look up online? “How to bypass a firewall”) let’s work on really making these children tough inside too.
What can you do? Talk to your children. That’s about it!
- Talk about anything. Sports? Photography? Movies? Politics? The other members of your family? Something you did as a child? (Don’t have topics? Ask me, I’ll share a list) but make sure you TALK. The problem these days is that real talking is reducing.
- Discuss your concerns with your children. If they can fall prey to adult problems then it means they need to be spoken to as adults too. You can even discuss pressures you have at work or at home. Show them you are human and that discussing can help to sort things out. Maybe you can pretend to ask them for ideas and even consider their suggestions!
- If you can bring yourself to, discuss things happening in their class and with their friends too. Boys and girls have certain topics of discussion that they may feel you disapprove of. Let them understand that you can be told anything! You must have gone through that phase as a teenager too. That age has come lower and you have to be matter-of-fact. Don’t shush them when they ask you a question. Maybe you can take your time to answer – but talk and whatever happens make sure you keep the channels of communication open. Look at it this way – they are going to be thinking and talking about stuff they want to anyway. If you shut your door to that conversation, they will just have it somewhere else. You cannot be their friend, but you can be their rock. Give them the confidence that you are.
- Talk about alcohol, smoking and drugs in a very frank way. Sex is a topic that will come up too. Sex education happens in school, but that really doesn’t make it any less exciting for the children to talk about – and let’s face it, it’s a very natural urge. So when the children ask you about it, don’t shush the topic. You can be matter of fact and choose your words carefully. Your children are probably not comfortable talking to you about it either. But keep in mind that if you don’t answer, there are plenty of others who will and so its better that they come to you with their questions first.
- And remember – if you feel a certain thing happens at a certain age, remember you are very wrong and the age has come down by many years. So teenage starts much before 13! And awareness about their body and things around them is quite early too. You’ll be surprised at how much your kids already know – why not start talking to them casually and find out!
Here are some ideas to make this happen.
- We know that we cannot simply disconnect ourselves from the 21st century. So how can we be practical and balanced about this?
- Dinner can be ‘conversation’ time. No TV, no phones, no tablets at the dinner table. Just talk! (I have been doing this for many years now, its great!)
- You can have all gadgets charging in the hall, not in the children’s bedroom. (oh, and you’ll have to practice what you preach here, but trust me, it’s a good thing!) That way they do not go online in the middle of the night! They also do not fall asleep while staring at a screen and harm their eyes. And they also get to bed on time.
- Make sure the kids get enough sleep, exercise and eat well. That’s the best way to stay happy, healthy and mentally stable. Such children usually do not develop mental health disorders and can take better decisions. Again, I have many of my ex-students who can vouch for this.
- You can make time at home after say 8 pm the ‘gadget free’ time zone. They can talk, play board games, tease, fight or even read, study, file away the sheets, draw etc. You may have to follow it too. It may seem a bit hard the first few days, but you will all communicate better with each other. If you want to know a list of board games, let me know!