When it comes to raising kids in today’s technology-filled world, the old maxim that “the best defense is a good offense” is likely the best approach parents can take.
While it can sometimes be hard to be positive about technology as a parent, educating yourself and trying out new tools and apps as they come along is one of the best ways to make tech a healthy part of your family. Getting hands-on experience is the best way to make informed choices and show your kids you’re coming from a knowledgeable point of view.
Here are some things to think about as you develop your family’s approach to managing technology.
Balance is key. Look for ways to balance out screen time with other everyday activities. Letting kids enjoy some time on a tablet on the drive home after a hike or a trip to the museum can be a smart way to blend tech into your family routine.
Limiting screen time makes sense. If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll spend as much time on their devices as you give them. Set limits on when devices can be used and make sure you follow the rules as well.
The current rule of thumb is to discourage any screen time for kids under two and limit older kids to no more than two hours — but, as this guideline was originally created in 1999, it may get an update from the American Academy of Pediatrics later in 2016. Feel free to remind them that their phone, tablet and overall Internet access is a privilege and not guaranteed.
Start talking about safety early on. Kids are naturally drawn to smartphones and other tech from an early age. Talk to them about how things like in-app purchases work and the need to choose content that is age appropriate. As kids get older, create clear family guidelines about when and how they will be able to create their own social media accounts or get their own smartphones.
Review content together. Ask them to talk about what they see as the positive and negative parts of content they are interested in. For example, ask them if they think a game looks like it could be too violent or scary. This discussion creates common expectations and reduces the “kids vs. parents” feelings that can develop around decisions about content. If you need to veto a download, providing an explanation of your reasoning can help them understand where you’re coming from (even if they disagree).
Never talk to online strangers. Instilling strong “stranger danger” is an important part of healthy online life for kids. Make sure they know that personal questions (last name, school, age, address, etc.) are things that should never be shared with anyone online. Ever. Let them know you expect them to tell you about any interactions that are creepy, mean or just don’t seem right to them. And be crystal clear that any request to meet up “in real life” is when they need to stop what they are doing and show you what’s going on. Unless they have made some errors in judgment that need to be addressed, it’s smart to focus on the other person’s behavior to reduce any chances they may feel like they did something wrong.
Choose anonymous screen names. Take care to create screen names that don’t include personal data like first name, sports jersey numbers or location information. The first place online crooks will look for personal information is in screen names.
Create a family code of conduct. Let kids know that, even though they may meet mean people online, you expect them to be considerate and kind in how they interact with others. If kids wouldn’t say it to someone face-to-face, they shouldn’t say it online — even if the other person “started it.”
Avoid using social media accounts as logins. Almost every app or site that asks you to create an account will push you to use a social media account as a login. For the most part, go with the old-fashioned email address/user ID and password option instead of a Google or Facebook account. Use social media logins only when it offers a clear benefit in the app or site. You’d be surprised how many sites and apps take advantage of the access to the extra data in your social profiles.
Keep online activity in common areas of your home. Limiting online activity to a common room in your home provides added pressure to not engage in unacceptable behavior. You may even consider having kids turn in any Internet-connected devices to you before hitting the hay as the blue light from most screens has been conclusively proven to disrupt restful sleep.
Technology can be a wonderful way to make life easier and more enjoyable when it’s used wisely and with intention. When you take control and lay out a clear philosophy about the role of tech in your family, you can maximize the positive influence these tools can have on your family.