We write a lot about the tech basics—or the hard skills—you need to excel in your superhero job as a digital parent today. But there’s the other side of parenting that is equally if not more important called the soft skills. Soft skill is a term associated with a person’s Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and includes emotional habits that help you succeed in a given job. And when it comes to the job of parenting, you can bet, soft skills come in handy.
This post is inspired by a tweet I saw recently by Dr. Tim Elmore (yes, a single tweet can change the contour of your day). The tweet read: “With kids and students . . . don’t think protect, think prepare.”
The idea at the heartbeat of that tweet shifted my thinking from third to fourth gear on my personal parenting track. And, it challenged me to think more about the “why” behind some of the digital parenting we employ in our home.
So as you strengthen your tech base, as we so often advocate here, don’t forget to fold in these critical soft skills that will help you connect with your kids and prepare them to thrive (and be safe) online.
7 soft skills critical for parenting digital kids:
- Positivity. Over the past five years we’ve experienced a perpetual wave of panic over technology’s negative influence on the family dynamic. However, the rapid integration of technology into the realms of business, education, and entertainment demands we calibrate our thinking. Starting on a positive note when talking tech with your kids puts you on their team, speaking their language.
- Pragmatism. This soft skill (quality) nods to Dr. Elmore’s quote. When we parent from a pragmatic position of preparation, over an anxious position of protection, we nurture the long-term goal of building critical thinkers well equipped to live and lead in the online world. This also means that conversations with your kids around online safety need to shift from lectures to a two-way conversation with the goal of learning on both sides.
- Confidence. The best way to model smart online behavior is to jump in and learn the technology your kids love. To speak from a position of confidence is always better than chiming in as a bystander. Stop fighting it, parent, it’s time to: Open that Instagram account, Snap Chat your child his chore reminder, and Tweet that encouragement to your child each day.
- Empathy. This emotional quality is echoed in #5 on Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which is to “Seek first to understand then to be understood.” This soft skill, if embraced, can be a game-changer for parents. Most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. The same holds true for parents. We often filter everything our kids say through our life experiences and our frames of reference. But we can’t exactly do that when it comes to growing up digital now can we? Most of us have no clue what it means to grow up digital. So stop talking, take a breather, and listen. Empathize with your child’s challenges online. Listen to her ideas and opinions without interrupting with your fears. Consider (and learn from) her insights and adjust your understanding.
- Compassion. When we strive for greater compassion in our parenting (for both our kids and the world around us), we inspire our kids to care about the suffering of others and work toward helpful solutions. This is what being a good digital citizen is all about. As compassion increases online, critical issues such as cyberbullying, racism, hate, and crime decrease.
- Humor. A sense of humor can break down walls between you and your child faster than a John Deer tractor. A lot of the attraction for teens online is YouTube and Vine’s bounty of funny videos, memes, and odd photos. Humor plays a huge part in connecting with peers and building community online. If you are an overly serious parent, let your guard down a bit. Find out what the ruckus is all about . . . and share some laughs with your child.
- Discernment. In the attempt to understand a child’s online world, a digital parent must exercise discernment at every turn. While social media does well to dissolve communication barriers between people, very clear boundaries still exist. As tempting as it can be to gain your child’s acceptance into the cool parent club online, adults must be adults and respect the age and conversation boundaries at all times.
The online culture has changed absolutely everything about parenting. The good news is you’ve got the skills for the job ahead.
What other soft skills (emotional traits) do you think are important in parenting digital kids? Please share!
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @SafeEyes.
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