We got a new puppy for Christmas.
Well, my son got a puppy, but we collectively chip in to help because taking care of a puppy is evidently a four-man tag team effort. He has, at the grand total weight of 10 pounds, effectively taken over my office, my back porch, and all of my free time. He is constant chaos interspersed with the sweetest cuddles and new puppy smells. His name is Milo. And we love him so much already.
But as I have spent a lot of time with this baby shark (his new nickname given his razor teeth and propensity to chew everything), I realized how much he is like kids and teens when they first get social media, games, or a device. Let me explain.
When Milo first came home, he was quiet. Unsure. Calm. He did not know his environment yet and could not understand all the amazing, bright, new, and shiny things he could get into. Until he did. And once he did, well, let’s just say the whole house is tired with a capital T.
Your kids are like puppies. Before exposure to social media, games, and devices, they were not sure what they could get into. It all seems fun because other, bigger kids are doing it. But they do not REALLY know until they get their first taste of a device and the freedom that comes with it. Then, they become a lot like Milo. They want to chew EVERYTHING. They want to explore everything. They want to test all the boundaries to see what will happen without knowing or caring about the consequences.
I can not tell you how many times Milo has fallen off the last two steps of the porch in his excitement to get to the yard. Your kids do the same. They make huge missteps by jumping into places they should not be online. Much like toys to Milo, social media and gaming light up that pleasure center in their brains, leading them to want more. In the way a chew toy hi-jacks Milo’s focus, social media hi-jacks your kids’ focus. But here is the thing. As Milo’s grandparent and part-time caretaker, I sometimes have to redirect him.
If he is chewing on something he shouldn’t, it is my job to tell him “nope” and redirect him by giving him a toy that he CAN chew on. At the risk of making all of this sound silly and ridiculous by comparing our kids to puppies, that is really what we must do. They will “chew” on the wrong things regarding games and social media if allowed. They are going to test those boundaries. It is then up to us as parents to redirect them to more appropriate areas that they can explore. As Milo’s trainer told me, it is a marathon of slow, incremental steps over a long period of time. We must follow the same advice when it comes to protecting our kids from online dangers.
I think Milo thinks his name is “Nope.” Your kids will get frustrated and angry with your re-direction and constant “No’s,” but that is okay. When we stick it out for the long haul, we have well-adjusted, tech-smart kids who become well-adjusted, tech-smart adults. And if you have a new puppy, you come out on the other side with your furniture still intact.
Kristi Bush serves as a national education consultant and social media safety advocate. She is a licensed social worker with greater than 15 years of clinical practice and health care experience. She attended Troy and Auburn University where she studied social work and counseling. Kristi travels nationally and has spoken with thousands of children, parents, professionals and organizations about the benefits and threats associated with social media. You may reach Kristi through her website at www.knbcommunications.com.