One of the coolest things about being a parent is being convinced your child hasn’t heard a word you’ve said for at least five years, then suddenly one day he whips out a tool you’ve given him and uses it to help someone else.
This happened recently when I overheard my college-age son counseling his middle school sister on what to do about a bully at school. She argued that standing up for herself would infuriate the bully to which he promptly said, “Look, you either stand up now and tell someone what’s going on and get the whole situation taken care of, or the bully is gonna think you’re an easy target and it will only get worse. I’ve been there. It takes guts to stand up, but I know you’ve got that area covered.”
Yeah. That was a good moment.
Then there are the other moments. Like when you told your daughter she needed to read more and she asked you why you watch TV every night. Or the time you were driving—with your kids in the car of course—and got pulled over by the police for speeding. That’s always a no-trophy parenting moment.
Becoming a better parent is a process not an event and no one masters it. No one. But that doesn’t keep us from trying. Some behaviors are easy to change because the cavernous gap between what we practice and what we preach becomes absurd. Other behaviors take longer to recognize and change because they just kind of creep in gradually. Either way, you can bet, your children will imitate your behavior—be it awesome or be it awful.
That gulp-inducing truth applies to our online behavior as well. Could you be passing any of these five destructive digital habits on to your kids?
1. Texting and Driving. It’s sad, but true. A 2013 survey conducted by AT&T found that 49% of adult drivers admit to texting behind the wheel compared to 43% of teens. While 98% of adult respondents said they knew texting or emailing while driving was unsafe, 43% said it was a “habit,” while 22% said they “like to stay connected,” and 18% said “it makes me more productive.”
Make a Change: Stop it! Your kids are watching and getting their behavior cues from you. Dying to text is not the legacy you want to leave. Join the It Can Wait movement against distracted driving. And, make a verbal and written pledge to your kids that they will not see you texting behind the wheel ever again!
2. Letting Down Your Digital Guard. It’s been three years since you changed your password (which happens to be: password!) and your Facebook page shows zero privacy settings and several dozen “friends” you accepted but never met. Your kids see you monitor their online activity but what if the tables were turned? How would your personal information security level rank?
Make a Change: Change your password (now) and patrol your social networks to make sure you are practicing smart online safety. Cleanse your friend lists and take a look at the access you’ve given to apps through your social networks.
3. An Online Addiction. This is going to be a difficult one to admit and even harder to change but the case for Internet addiction is growing as we become more wired. Internet addiction is very real and very, very destructive. So much so, the number of experts and Internet Addiction rehab programs are on the rise. You can be addicted from everything from phone apps, to social networks, to online gambling, to pornography, to video games, to online shopping, and more.
Make a Change: Unfortunately there isn’t a quick fix for this destructive behavior but you can start addressing your addiction (even if it’s Candy Crush; not laughing) and facing the problem head on. Read up on Internet addiction and chose a friend to confide in and trust to follow-up and give accountability toward getting you the help you need.
4. Bullying. You may blow off your last political Facebook rant or sarcastic comment below a friend’s photo as “just kidding,” but a closer look at your communication style might reveal that you have a fierce desire to one up the people around you. Have you ever found yourself participating in an online argument that spiraled out of control publically and you just kept going? Do you resort to name calling if you are losing ground in an argument? Do you get angry, annoyed, or combative when you are online? Do you read someone else’s contrary opinion and feel confrontational? If so, you may be a bully.
Make a Change: If you know you have been acting like a bully, it’s time to log off and examine your motives. Until you can tolerate the opinions and values of others, online may not be the best place for you to grow friendships. If necessary, make amends with those you’ve offended. Also, apologize to your kids who likely have the idea that bulldozing others online at any cost is acceptable. It’s never too late to clean the slate and begin again.
5. Choosing digital relationships over personal ones. Do you look at your phone screen while your spouse or kids are talking to you? How about answer them without looking up? Do you bring your phone inside restaurants, to the dinner table, or check your email, texts or Facebook during important events like weddings, funerals, or family celebrations? If so, it’s time to admit you’ve put your digital relationships in front of your personal ones and begin to make some changes.
Make a Change: First, look up and look around. Life is passing you by. The people on the other side of your phone do not matter nearly as much as the ones right in front of you. Don’t laugh it off or reason away your preferred form of escapism. Start with baby steps. Leave your phone in the car when you go into a restaurant. Disconnect between 7-10 every night. Make eye contact. Hug. Apologize. Gradually set your priorities right.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @SafeEyes.