How to talk to kids about finding community online
Charnaie Gordon is the content creator behind Here Wee Read, a blog that advocates for diversity and inclusivity in children’s literature. She’s also the author of several children’s books, including “Lift Every Voice and Change: A Celebration of Black Leaders and the Words that Inspire Generations,” You can follow her on Instagram.
I’ve always attributed my love of reading to Oprah Winfrey. I used to rush home from school so I could watch her daytime talk show at 4 o’clock. She didn’t have a book club back then, but I remember her talking about her love of reading and how books were her escape as a child.
Seeing someone who looked like me with such a huge platform was powerful. It’s part of why I wanted to share my own love of reading through my blog, Here Wee Read. The internet helped me find not only a platform, but a community of readers who are as passionate about diverse literature as I am. Now that I have two young children, I’m showing them that while the internet isn’t perfect, it’s a great place to find inspiration, make connections and grow their worlds.
I want parents to know that the internet is not a thing to be feared, but a place where everyone – even our kids – can find community.
The internet is a great connector
I started Here Wee Read in 2015 with no intentions of being a content creator or an influencer. I did it because I wanted to share my love of books that featured diverse characters and stories with others.
I wanted to help make sure that others – no matter their color, background or ability – feel included in literature that we see on bookshelves.
Turns out that I wasn’t alone. Over the past seven years, my blog, as well as social media, have connected me with so many amazing and talented people around the world that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. This led me to become a children’s book author and editor myself: In 2019, a publisher approached me to co-author a picture book, “A Friend Like You.” Since then, I now have five published picture books with more on the way in 2023 and 2024.
How we use the internet as a family
I’ve been reading out loud to my children daily since they were born, and I’m proud that I’ve imparted the same love of reading in them. In the summer of 2018, when my kids were four and five, our family thought about how we can help put more inclusive books on shelves across America. We came up with the idea of donating books to each state. Soon, what started as a family project became a nonprofit organization called 50 States 50 Books, which has been providing free diverse books around the country.
My kids ship books for our nonprofit. They also create social media content and reply to messages on our accounts (all with my guidance of course). Not only have my kids helped create a literary community online, they’re practicing their communication and business skills too.
How to engage your kids
These days, the internet is a constant part of our lives, including our children. My experience has taught me that it’s full of opportunities to build community.
If your kids are turning to the internet more than you’d like, don’t focus on what can go wrong. Think about the opportunities instead. It’s likely that children are exploring their interests online, and finding others who share them. Talk to your kids about what they like to do on the internet and ask questions.
Are they making new friends outside of their school? Are they learning something new? Can they join an online group or club to develop their passions or skills? Do they want to support a cause they care about?
Show you are genuinely interested in understanding how they want to spend their time. Discuss specific content they may see or create.
Once you understand the value of the internet to your child, define boundaries together – whether that’s screen time limits or what they could or couldn’t share online. Use this time as an opportunity to express that when done responsibly, using the internet isn’t just fun but can be used to make the world a better place.
Acknowledge the challenges of being online
Like anything else, being online has pitfalls. It helps to discuss these with your kids, too.
Older children who constantly post online can feel the pressure to keep it up. This can lead to burnout, loss of creativity and mental health challenges. Stress the importance of stepping away and taking breaks when they need to.
Help them understand that what they post can have consequences for themselves and others. Being online can make people targets for hurtful messages or cyberbullying. So while the internet is a good place to express ourselves, acknowledge that the internet isn’t perfect. In my experience, one of the best things parents and caregivers can do is address any problematic encounters, behavior or content as soon as possible. Remind them to always be kind.
There are risks associated with using the internet, but knowing how to navigate it safely can help your young ones build resilience.
How to talk to kids about finding community online
Encourage creativity. There are many free apps that let kids express their creativity – whether through music, photos, videos, coloring, coding, making funny voices or creating their own movies. Their creations can lead them to like-minded peers both online and offline.
Talk about their dreams. Regardless of our ambitions for our children or their own goals, technology will likely be a big part of their adult lives. Set boundaries and teach them about important things like online privacy, but also give them the freedom to explore and make connections based on their passions. Let them troubleshoot, emphasizing that you’re there for them when they need your help. Kids can feel empowered to learn from the treasure trove of resources (including brilliant minds from around the world) that is the internet, and these can help them become the adults they want to be.
Discuss ways to embody your values as a family online. As a parent, I like to set an example for my children. I show them that whatever I do online reflects my values, so I use my platform to spread awareness for causes I care about. I include my kids in my efforts and together, we connect with other families that have similar beliefs and values.
Stepping foot into the online world and finding community there can be exciting for children. Instead of instilling fear, stay engaged as a parent or caregiver. The internet can be better, but that requires efforts from people who want to create a better world. Let your children be a part of that.
The internet is a great place for families. It gives us new opportunities to discover the world, connect with others and just generally make our lives easier and more colorful. But it also comes with new challenges and complications for the people raising the next generations. Mozilla wants to help families make the best online decisions, whatever that looks like, with our latest series, The Tech Talk.