Dinner was ready. I had called to the kids three times and no one came into the kitchen. I set the pan down on the stovetop and walked into the family room.
All three of my kids were there, well within earshot of the kitchen. And all three of them had their eyes on a screen, unaware that I had even entered the room much less called them for dinner.
Getting their attention, I ordered all electronics to their charging station and hands to be washed for dinner. Sitting down at the table I was grateful I finally had their attention. Interestingly enough, this little exchange also got my own.
It’s nothing we haven’t heard: technology is everywhere. From the “use all the technology all the time” camp to the “move to a farm and never see a screen” camp, there are opinions (strong opinions) everywhere you look.
One thing parents can seem to agree on is that we want the best for our kids. And what is best for my kids may look different than what is best for your kids. After all, even within my own family what is best looks different for each of us. If one of my kids needs something different than another, why would we expect my children and your children to need the exact same thing?
Another thing about best, it’s not about right versus wrong. There is no absolute, concrete right or wrong when it comes to technology and our kids. There is, however, each of us working to find what is best.
Here are some things that may help.
Your relationship with technology should reflect the relationship you want your kids to have with technology. Just like when they were little they may have heard a bad word slip out of mommy’s mouth and they were all too eager to repeat it, our kids do what they know. What does this mean for you?
DON’T TEXT AND DRIVE. Don’t drive distracted by phone calls or notifications. Your kids are watching you. Set the standard for appropriate phone use as a driver.
USE YOUR PHONE AT APPROPRIATE TIMES.. If your kids see you on the phone first thing in the morning, for every meal, and in bed at the end of the day they will be more likely to follow your example.
MAKE RESPONSIBLE AND MATURE SOCIAL MEDIA DECISIONS.. Talk about how you use social media and why. This shouldn’t be a lecture. Try saying, “I can’t believe she wrote that on Facebook. I’m going to scroll past it instead of engaging in the conversation.” Or, “I love these pictures we took today. I’m going to pick my favorite and share that with my friends. But I don’t need to post all of them.”
TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOUR ELECTRONICS.. Show your kids good habits like charging them every night in a designated spot or making sure you have a case on your phone. It may save them trouble (and money) later on!
Know how you want your kids to use technology
This involves thinking about and discussing the role of electronics in your family. Knowing where you stand and making it clear saves a lot of headaches later on. How can you do that?
KNOW WHAT TECHNOLOGY YOUR KIDS USE. Be aware of the laptops, cell phones, ipods, gaming devices, and tablets as well as what they are capable of. Know if they have internet access. Know if they are app based. Know how each one is used so you can discuss what works for your family. Be aware because when it comes to technology knowledge can make a big difference.
DECIDE ON WHO IS RESPONSIBLE if something breaks or gets lost. Know who pays the bill. Are you taking it all on? Are your kids paying for it? Is there a compromise? Having this worked out ahead of time can save you from problems if a phone is lost and a child expects you to replace it. If that’s the plan, great! If not, know what the plan is.
BE CLEAR ABOUT PRIVACY. People sometimes have strong feelings about the level of privacy kids deserve on electronic devices. The easiest thing to do is be clear about it from the beginning. Do parents have complete access? Can kids have things password protected from their parents? Will you ask your child before looking at their device? Be clear from the beginning.
Think about what your ground rules are
It’s important for parents to have an idea of what they expect, but also to include their kids in the discussion at an age appropriate level. Giving them a voice in the discussion will help them feel part of the decisions and make them less likely to fight them. Here’s a few you can start with:
KNOW YOUR LIMITS. Decide if and how you will limit technology use. Be clear about whether kids need to ask permission to use devices, if a timer needs to be set, or if an app will monitor usage. There is no magic number here, but decide on limits that work for your family considering school days versus weekends, if homework must be completed first, and what devices and uses count as technology time. Also important, be clear about where technology should be used. Encouraging usage in your family’s common areas will offer more opportunities to monitor.
DEFINE YOUR ABSOLUTES. If your family has absolute boundaries with technology, make them clear. Some examples of this may include no phones at dinner, no technology in bedrooms, no using specific apps. Also make the consequences clear and stick to them.
SAFETY IS KEY. Making sure kids are safe when using technology is essential. Discuss what information you can post versus information you never give out. Clearly and frequently talk about how social media is being used to ensure your child and friends are safe and free from cyberbullying, sexting and harmful online behaviors. Also think about and talk about what you share and how you keep your kids safe in the things you post online. These conversations may not always be comfortable but the more you talk about them in casual conversation the more normal they become.
We will never all agree on technology use for our kids, but that’s good, because each family is different. We can agree that we all want the best for them. Being proactive about what is best for your individual family and children will help them develop healthy relationships with technology as kids and as they grow up.
Some additional resources to help your family know how to best use technology are:
imom offers a comprehensive section dedicated to kids and technology, including family printables such as social media contracts. (imom.com)
The Smart Talk is a set of online questions for families to help them outline their technology rules. (thesmarttalk.org)
NetNanny is a widely used parental control software to help parents set filters, blocks, and limits for their kids. (netnanny.com)
Safe Family offers parental control software across a variety of platforms. (family.mcafee.com)
Circle is a Disney product offering parental controls from an in-house device that can pause internet use, set time limits and curfews, and be controlled from your phone. (meetcircle.com)