Trying to navigate the world of technology with kids and teens is complex. This guide can help.
The moment I had been dreading had finally arrived: my daughter was getting a mobile device.
This may sound overly dramatic, because, well, it is – especially since I’m only talking about an old iPod Touch. But there’s little I’ve feared and resisted more than my daughters being able to text with friends and eventually access social media.
But, it was time. My daughter finally seemed mature enough to have her own device. At almost eleven, she was ready.
The only problem was I wasn’t.
Like most parents, I’ve read the stories about cyberbullying, sexting and child predators connecting with kids through their devices. Not to mention the popularity contests and social dynamics that are even more pronounced with the anonymity of online communications.
It makes me want to time-travel back to the 1980s – when I was a kid – when access to technology meant thirteen TV channels and my best friend’s Nintendo.
Modern day technology – especially apps, phones, and online access – can feel so overwhelming to parents who grew up in a different era. Sure, we may be on Facebook and Instagram ourselves, but there’s so much we don’t know.
I knew that since my oldest was going to be getting her first device, I needed to educate myself to help keep her safe.
That’s why I was so happy to discover that a friend, Kira Lewis, and her blogging partner Michelle Myers, recently published a book named Screen Time Sanity: The Crazy Easy Guide to Doing Technology With Your Kids.
This is exactly the guidebook I need.
Sure, I’d read my share of articles with tips and advice about kids and online access. But what I really wanted was something that covered technology from A to Z.
This guide is it. In a few short pages, it’s pack full of information. Here are just a few of my key takeaways:
Don’t Fret Too Much About Time Spent on Devices – Content is What Matters Most
If all of your child’s spare time is spent on devices, then yes, that is concerning. But most kids have a good variety of activities and other ways they spend free time. The point is, don’t fret about actual minutes or hours. Just make sure there’s a balance to how much time your child spends staring at screens.
What parents should be more concerned about is the quality of the shows, apps, video games or other online media their kids have access to. Not sure about a show your child is watching? Watch it with them or look it up on Common Sense Media. Simply Googling certain apps can also tell you a lot about what they’re like and if there’s anything to watch out for, such as unexpected ways to connect socially with others through the app.
Talk With Your Kids & Teens About Technology
Recognize that the online world of information, media, and social interaction is complex and kids need guidance. In addition to sharing our values about technology use (people are more important than gadgets, for example), it’s also extremely important that we caution kids about potential dangers.
We also must coach them in how best to use social media or communicate effectively and appropriately online. Among other reasons, whatever our children do online today will leave a digital footprint that will carry with them throughout the rest of their lives.
Which gets to the next point…
Monitoring Your Child’s Phone And Online Activity is NOT Spying on Them
From Screen Time Sanity: “Why are we so reluctant to monitor our kids online the same way we do offline?…Why do we care who they are hanging out with in real life, but we may have no idea who they are friends with on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat?”
Some of the same parents who do not let their child play outside or walk down the street on their own – for fear of their safety – give them complete freedom online. But in fact, unfettered online access can potentially be more hazardous to kids than letting them play in our yard on their own.
Handing over unlimited access to the internet and web is something most kids aren’t ready for. They need our help, support, and guidance and they need us to make sure they stay safe by monitoring what they access and who they connect with on their devices.
You May Have Good Kids But They Still Need Your Guidance
We want to think the best of our kids and may trust their instincts. But they still need our guidance and support.
So-called “good kids” still need boundaries, just like they did when they were toddlers experiencing the physical world for the first time. We need to help them determine what’s appropriate and isn’t in the online world, as they experience it for the first time.
Set Technology Household Rules
Parents should discuss basic household technology rules and boundaries with their kids. Having everyone on the same page about these rules makes decisions less arbitrary and can help both parents and children feel less confused about technology use.
(Chapter 2 in Screen Time Sanity provides a helpful list of nine home tech principles to consider, such as that the use of technology is a privilege, not a right, and there’s no technology use behind closed doors.)
Make Sure You’re Modeling Appropriate Use of Technology
Before setting any rules for our children, it’s important to consider what behaviors we’re modeling. If we aren’t showing discipline with our own devices, we can’t expect the same for our children.
If we want our children to be present at the dinner table then we also have to be present. We can also model to our children that we do not need to be on our phones every idle minute.
Trying to Tame the Technology Beast in Our Home
Most of my fear of letting my daughter obtain a device she could text on was not knowing what I needed to know.
Should I be looking over her texts?
How can I make sure that she doesn’t connect with someone I don’t want her to?
And at what age should parents allow their kids access to social media?
I now know that yes, it’s important that my daughter understands we will be monitoring her texts and that there are apps that can help us keep track of who she interacts with. And that kids really shouldn’t have access to social media until they are at least 13. (It’s actually against most social media platforms policies to sign up kids who are younger than 13).
All of this knowledge makes me feel on more solid ground when it comes to giving my daughters access to devices and the internet.
And here’s one thing I wasn’t expecting: since obtaining her device my daughter has been texting with her grandparents – who live two states away – every single day. She lets them know when she’s home from school and wishes them goodnight when she goes to sleep.
A reminder that the connections created through technology aren’t all bad and scary – especially when we educate ourselves and our kids to enter the online world with wisdom.
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