Building a Safe, Healthy Digital Home, Part Four: Outside

Note: This is the fourth (and final) part of a series on Building a Safe and Healthy Digital Home. It wouldn’t be a complete tour if we didn’t step outside and look around…

The Front Porch

If the closet was the private part of our lives, the front porch is about as public as it gets.

Though it used to be the norm a few decades ago, not too many people sit on their front porches chatting with their neighbors today. It was a way of connecting with those around us, catching up on the latest town gossip, and creating a sense of community.

Now, we just do that all online.

That doesn’t mean that social media is all bad. We are able to connect with old friends and classmates that we would never have kept in contact with pre-social media. We communicate with our immediate and extended family more often than just at reunions. We have a better sense of what is going on in the world around us–often in real-time–in a way that would have blown our imagination just a couple decades ago.

In fact, social media itself is neutral, just like all technology. The way that we–and our kids–use it is a true balancing act. For example, there is a very real risk of “oversharing”, to the point of putting yourself in harm’s way. Additionally, we need to deliberately balance our children’s time between being social and being “social” online.

There are other potential destructive forces resulting from an imbalanced use of social media. For example, many of us will readily admit how powerful FOMO can be. The “Fear Of Missing Out” has created a totally distracted society bent on trying to keep up with all their social media feeds…at the expense of so many more significant things.

Our front porches should be a place to connect, converse, and socialize with the outside world. But we can’t spend all day out there.

The Backyard

My childhood was punctuated by trees.

I climbed them. I hunted and camped in large clusters of them. I built forts in them.

Many of my best memories of my father took place outside. When I think of first friendships, they were created in outside games. Humid summers or bitterly cold winters, we were outside.

But while our generation grew up outside, we were also The Transition from the outdoors to the indoors. Watching TV for hours on end, recorded movies on VHS, fancy new gaming systems. Screens began to compete with the world outside our walls.

As we transitioned inside (in general), we’ve also seen an increase in childhood obesity and other health issues. We’ve seen a jump in adolescent depression, suicide, attention issues, and other harmful side-effects.

And, no, maybe the correlation is not a scientifically provable one, but it’s hard to deny that there is at least a loose connection between those trends and the decrease of time in the natural world. “The Nature Effect” as some call it, has less of an effect on our attitudes, our imaginations, and our spirits than it used to.

Perhaps we, as parents, are a more fearful generation in a more fear-tainted society. Do we keep our kids inside to protect them? If so, Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, would say we have it backwards:

“An indoor (or backseat) childhood does reduce some dangers to children; but other risks are heightened, including risks to physical and psychological health, risk to children’s concept and perception of community, risk to self-confidence and the ability to discern true danger”

Encourage your kids to get outside on a regular basis. Better yet, go outside with them (and, no, it’s not always easy after a long day of working.) The therapy that we get with a little play and fresh air is effective and free. It can be a day-long hike in a national park or just choosing to eat outside for dinner. We naturally explore and think and observe differently when we leave the four walls of our house.

Can’t let the phones go? Take them outside and use an app to identify leaves and trees. Go geocaching. Get outside on a clear night with a star finder app, and find Orion’s belt. Getting outside doesn’t have to be anti-technology, as long as the technology is amplifying the experience, not shielding us from it.

The Fence

Yes, along with everything else, the digital fence we build around our home is an integral part of creating a healthy space.

Just as we would be foolish to leave our front doors wide open with a giant sign listing the most valuable inventory of our physical house, we would never think to open the floodgates wide and allow the outside world unhindered access to our kids.

Each family is different, and each child is different. There are no set ages as to when they should have certain access to certain sites or social media. Sure, there are guidelines. But it’s (unfortunately for us) not an exact science.

When it comes to this aspect of our digital homes, three things jump out at me:

  1. You need some form of a digital fence,
  2. You need to decide if you will monitor or filter, or both,
  3. You are the best digital fence for your family.

I don’t need to highlight the amount of garbage that’s online. We don’t want that truck to back up to our doorstep and dump it in. Something needs to be in place to at least limit the amount of negative, harmful stuff coming through the wires.

But, if you are like me, you feel like you can’t just slam the door completely. Our kids often need internet access for their homework. Beyond that, they also benefit from access to the amazing things that are available to them at a click. They need to learn to navigate, filter, evaluate, and use the information that is growing exponentially. They can’t learn that through us lecturing them. They need to be online.

So, we must choose how we are going to modify that rushing river.

For most of us, a combination of filters and monitoring is probably the best bet. I’ll warn you that it can be an investment in time to set all this up. (I’ll be creating some tools and walkthroughs for these systems in the coming weeks.)

But beyond the software and settings, YOU are the best filtering and monitoring tool that exists. The more you know, and the more you model good digital citizenship, and the more you create an open dialogue about online behavior, the more empowered your kids become in making good choices in the moment.

Next Steps

That’s what ParentingDigital is all about. Helping you become more savvy and knowledgeable so you are better equipped to point your children in the right direction online.

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[Because we haven’t even touched on what happens when our kids leave the house: the garage (road trips and teen drivers), Grandma’s house (other people’s so-called-rules about tech), and school (what to do when the school gives your kid a laptop.)

So many things to think about. But you can do this!

You can build a safe, healthy digital home for your family.


Other posts in this series:


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