The metaverse already has its first denizens: our children. For them, the digital realm holds as much significance as the physical world (a revelation many people experienced in 2020).
During the height of the pandemic, many of us shifted much of our social interactions to the internet. Kids 8 to 18 years old reportedly already spent significant time – at least six hours –looking at screens. It’s safe to say that screen time has increased for everyone recently.
Kids aren’t just playing games or watching content online – they’re using the internet for school and to connect with friends and relatives. The internet and online resources are a valuable component of kids’ social lives and an invaluable tool for learning.
I am constantly amazed at the depth of the interactions my 9-year-old son has with his group of friends as they play Minecraft, for instance. They’re working as a team, building things collaboratively, solving group dynamics issues, and taking turns as leaders. It’s so fun to listen to the conversations and see how kids can naturally work together independently, with no adult guidance.
So while parents probably shouldn’t outright ban screen time, we can be smarter about how we let kids engage with the web and connect with people virtually in this increasingly digital world. This all takes on even more significance as the internet shifts to the web3 era, which will prioritize user-owned services over that of central-owned giants such as Google and Facebook that manipulate our data and use it against us to sell ads.
Here are some simple tips from one parent to another to support their kids’ safe learning and curiosity:
Privacy: Trust, but be present
We keep our internet-connected devices in a common area where my wife and I can be present during our son’s online activity. We are aware of what our son is experiencing online and we can serve as a supportive resource if he has questions.
Even if your child is using an app designed for kids, inappropriate content may still pop up. YouTube content, even with a paid plan, can have inappropriate ads hidden in the middle of videos as sponsored content, like the time a Minecraft video my son was watching was sponsored by a “manscaping” company. This prompted a bit of an awkward conversation about male grooming with my son, and a talk about how advertising works on the internet and particularly poor ad targeting.
If my son were watching this video in his room, where his mother and I wouldn’t have been aware of this channel targeting grown-up products to younger audiences, we couldn’t have had the conversations we did, and helped our son make the choice to avoid that channel moving forward.
YouTubers using inappropriate language – even if it’s not foul, but just inappropriate or overly negative, is another thing we all look out for. Because our son knows that we can hear the same talk he can, it’s a layer of accountability that helps him make good choices. Ninety percent of the time now, we never even need to say anything – if he hears a YouTuber calling someone “stupid” or being otherwise derogatory, he just changes the channel on his own to one where the language is positive.
When technology is experienced out in the open and discussions can be had in real-time, we can help our kids have a better understanding of the content they’re exposed to and how to respond to it.
Learn the internet basics together
Kids are often smarter and more understanding than we give them credit for. If they learn the basics of how things work, they’ll be able to cope better when faced with challenges and disturbances.
Many people are content to just use technology without knowing anything about how the content and information we interact with actually reaches us on our screens. But savvy internet users should take the time to develop a basic understanding of how the technology we use every day works. This is so we can help ourselves and troubleshoot the issues we encounter, and to pass this understanding on to our kids.
In just an hour or two, we can watch videos that explain what happens when we type in a website address, run a search, or upload a video. There are plenty of resources that explain things such as servers, internet service providers, search engines, touch screens, computer graphics, and video games.
In addition to being just plain interesting for some people, it is valuable for us all to understand just what happens when we tap a button on our smartphone, or why we need to update a game on our consoles. It helps us develop an appreciation of all the work that’s happening behind the scenes, and to connect the dots and problem solve when we inevitably encounter issues with technology.
Privacy: Stay current with the changing technological landscape
As parents, it’s our job to look over the horizon and be cognizant of potential dangers that lie in wait for our children. This is why from a very young age we constantly remind kids to look both ways when crossing the street.
Like any tool, technology can be used for both good and bad. Kids should understand both sides of the spectrum. So while they can use social media to check up on their friends and keep up with their favorite influencers, they should be aware that what they see on these sites is often not a true reflection of reality.
As technology becomes further enmeshed into our day-to-day lives, this principle must hold. Further use of augmented and virtual reality will expand our connection to the internet, as well as its dangers. When parents speak with their children about these dangers, kids can make better decisions, and are more likely to raise questions and concerns.
As conversations with your children are taking place, it’s an opportunity to discuss privacy and decentralization, and how things can be different under a Web3 model. With more concepts like crypto and blockchain entering the mainstream, it’d be wise for kids to learn basic tech and cryptocurrency concepts now, which will help them seize opportunities and avoid potential scams in the future.
Good parenting in the Web3 era will rely on the same basics of good parenting today: open communication and dialogue with our children.
About the Author
Colin Pape is the founder of Presearch, a decentralized, community-driven search engine with 3.5 million registered users. Colin founded Presearch after realizing that a single company controlled more than 90% of the world’s search queries, and that a more private, decentralized alternative was needed. Presearch is leveling the search playing field by leveraging blockchain technology and the power of the community to take on the world’s biggest internet company. Presearch rewards users for searching and supporting the network in PRE tokens, an Ethereum-based cryptocurrency. Colin is based near Toronto, Canada.