Are your children spending time on your device or maybe even their own? Do you know what applications they are using? What websites are they viewing? With technology changing so quickly, our children are one step ahead of us. Once we have a grasp of the newest and greatest, the next best thing is out and we haven’t caught up yet. While it sometimes feels like we won’t be able to keep up, there are a few things that we can do to help manage our kids’ tech lives, and more importantly, to help them manage it themselves.
- BE INFORMED: Talk to your kids and your friends. Take advantage of any programs or information your school or library has available. Get up to date and find out what’s new and what’s out there for your teen to use on their devices. Learn from your kids; they can share with you what is the hottest new app. Don’t rely on that, though. Find your own sources for technology information and check them regularly. There are a few great online sources that you might want to check out: www.safesmartsocial.com has tools to teach your kids about digital citizenship, and has a “Popular App Guide for Parents” that is arranged by green (safest) to red (dangerous) apps. Another resource for parents is www.commonsensemedia.org where you could find reviews of apps and social media sites, as well as movies, books, games and TV shows.
- HAVE A CONTRACT: Sit down with your teenager and determine the rules and responsibilities that come along with owning a device. Talk about necessary on-line disciplines. You can’t just present them with a contract; it’s much more impactful and likely to succeed if you draft it together and then you both agree to the terms. Obviously, kids at different ages should have different privileges, so the contract will need to be adjusted over time. There’s a great “Family Responsibility Agreement” to start with at www.whyteensfail.com.
- TURN IT OFF: Stand your ground and have some planned screen-free time. Start small and make sure everyone is forewarned. Have a “Plan B” with other activities ready to go. Drag out the board games, bake cookies, hang around the fireplace - whatever your family will enjoy-do it together! Your family will quickly remember how much everyone enjoys one another and your screen-free times will soon increase. Just think....the kids might actually look forward to turning the devices off.
- PRACTICE FACE-TO-FACE COMMUNICATION: Our kids still need to know how to communicate with others face-to-face. It is up to us, as their parents, to teach them the importance of this; a device in front of their face all the time is deteriorating their ability to have normal interactions with others. We are also losing the ability for polite discourse as a society, as modeled by our recent presidential debate season! Let them know how to appropriately address and interact with adults and peers using eye contact and complete sentences. As silly as it sounds, you might want to practice these skills often, as our kids are losing them rapidly.
- MODEL MODERATION: We are the best example for our children.By you taking the first step and breaking free from your device, it will send the right message. Think about the impact it will make on your child, if you ignore that phone call or text while your child is speaking to you. A casual, “Oh, it doesn’t matter, I’ll get back to them,” shows your children they are loved and valued. Then maybe, when a call comes through on their phone and their friends are talking to them, maybe they will remember how they felt and put down their device.
There are many risks to media, but the good news is there are plenty of tools and resources out there to help overcome the worry and the unknown. Though we cannot address them all today, hopefully these baby steps will be helpful with keeping your teenager safe when it come to screen-time.