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Leticia Barr of TechSavvyMama.com discusses the need for teaching kids to be responsible, online and off, and the important of talking early about alcohol.

Leticia Barr, who runs techsavvymama.com, is a blog ambassador for our #TalkEarly underage drinking initiative. Leticia authored the following guest post. To read more of Leticia's #TalkEarly blogs, please click here and follow @TalkEarly on Twitter.

Today’s generation of kids is called the digital generation and since they’ve grown up with devices their entire lives, it’s no surprise that they’re often tech savvier than we are. Being tech savvy also means being knowledgeable about the risks and rewards of being online, using social networks, and having access to the devices that allow them to do so. But when, where and how do we begin in talking to our kids about topics like social media, cyberbullying, sexting, online privacy, and digital citizenship?

On a rainy fall weekend, I had the opportunity to join tween and teen digital content creators as they gathered with their parents at the second Digital Family Summit in Baltimore, Maryland. The interactive, hands-on conference served as a weekend to empower parents and kids alike. Digital Family not only provided workshops to teach kids ages 9-13 about technology best practices as they blog, create videos, or build online video games but served as an opportunity for parents to come together to learn and discuss important issues that we’re facing by having kids who either are, or want to be in the digital space. The conference also provided sessions to parents where thoughtful discussion centered around topics such as internet fame is right for your child or family, the challenge of unplugging in our hyperconnected society to model proper behavior for our kids, and balance and safety issues in parenting digital kids.

Digital Family Summit served as a way to open lines of communication between parents and kids. Just like it’s important to #TalkEarly about alcohol, it’s just as important to start a conversation about technology in an age appropriate way from a young age.  

How can we talk about the hard technology topics in an age appropriate way, especially when we feel less than tech savvy ourselves?

Parents used to be afraid talking about the birds and the bees but now with technology changing so rapidly and the most extreme cases of cyberbullying making the evening news, the time to start is now. We don’t need to dive head first into the hard stuff like cyberbullying and sexting beginning at preschool but there are age appropriate ways to have discussions that will lay the groundwork for future conversations while opening the lines of communication. 

For example, the concept of being a good friend is one that kids understand as toddlers, and certainly as preschoolers. Being nice by sharing one’s toys, inviting others to play, and displaying empathy are core concepts that even the youngest kids can understand. They know what it’s like to have their feelings hurt by others who tease, exclude others through their play, and are aggressive. If we teach our kids about what it means to be a good friend to others, they’re more likely to stand up for each other and less likely to engage in bullying behaviors that occur offline and then online as they get older.

Digital Family Summit reminded me that no one topic should ever be a one-time conversation in any home and it’s always a good idea to #TalkEarly. As kids grow and change, their questions evolve and our responses should too. This is true regardless of topics related to technology and social media as well as underage drinking and substance abuse.

Ultimately, we want to empower our children with knowledge, create open lines of communication, and be honest. Doing these three things will go a long way in establishing healthy relationships with our kids and helping them develop a strong moral compass which we can only hope will assist them making their future decisions.