Let me share with you what growing up in the digital age was like when I was a teenager. Taking the wireless house phone into my room to talk with friends, taping shows I liked so I could watch them later on our VHS player, and creating mix cassette tapes I recorded on my boom box from the radio. The only computer we owned, a DOS IBM, had no internet. Pictures? I had to take those on a camera with film, which then had to be developed. My mom’s first experience on giving me boundaries with technology was telling me when I could play Space Invaders or Frogger. Times have changed just a smidge since the 1980’s. My son has his own computer and a smartphone as do Rob and I. The teachers in our Sunrise classrooms use a tablet to send parent messages, take pictures, and play music. The past 30 years have seen a huge Technology Revolution, which makes it all the more difficult to figure out when your child should experience certain technology, how much and how long. Then the scary stuff, like where they’re going while they’re on it? All the rules have changed and it’s unchartered territory.
There are many areas to consider as you protect your child in the Digital Age. You’re probably using most of these, but just in case, here are ones you can add to your arsenal:
- Use a child-friendly browser. I consider this the most important recommendation on this list because there are browsers out there with age-appropriate content that also allow you to block or enable certain sites. Put passwords on your own phone/tablet/computer so that they cannot access it.
- Set rules and routines openly with your child and be prepared to follow them up with consequences, like not being able to use technology for awhile. Get creative, tell them that to earn time on the tablet, they have to spend a certain amount of time playing outdoors or helping you cook dinner.
- Limit and set times when technology is not okay, like eating at dinner, and when they are allowed to use it, like from the moment they get home to when dinner is ready or not on school nights.
- Monitor them and keep communication open. When you prevent them from doing something inappropriate, tell them why. Keep the computer in a central location so you can see what they are looking at. It is important to explain to them that monitoring is not about intruding into their personal space, but about making sure they are SAFE. They don’t know what’s possible, you do!
- You need to learn the platform they are using as they get older and use technology you aren’t familiar with. How else will you know what is possible with today’s equivalent of Snapchat?
- Use parental control software on the websites your child is restricted from. Look for software to help you with this.
- Explain to them that they should not believe everything they see on the Internet. Anorexically thin girls are not their role models. Articles may not be true, even newspapers.
- Promote activities that have nothing to do with technology, like reading a book before bed or going to the park.
- Parents should encourage kids to discuss their online experiences with them. Ask them questions!
- Children should need to ask for your permission whenever they want to install a new app or a program. Put software on their computer so that they cannot download anything.
- Inform them as they get older about possible threats they can face while online. Tell your kids about hackers and predators, as well as privacy. Explain that personal information can be used to harm them.
- Children should interact online with people they and their parents know personally and teenagers need to use caution with what they say when gaming. When playing online games, children may meet new friends. Explain to your kids that such online friends may deceive them. For instance, a 36-year-old man can pretend to be a 12-year-old boy just for fun or to find out your address. Explain what predators are and what they will ask for.
- Tell your child they have to add you to their list of friends on social media. Then you’re updated each time they post something new.
- Teach them to treat personal images, videos, or any other information with caution. Children should disclose online only what they would share with every person they know.
- Children should not reveal their passwords to anyone except their parents. Teach them to keep them private.
- The latest growing concern? Cyberbullying and Sexting. Schools now have rules on this (thank the gods) and kids can get expelled for bullying others or sending X-rated pictures. This is a conversation to have with your pre-teen BEFORE they enter middle school. Everything counts…texting, emailing, Snapchat, etc.
Every family has to decide when to allow their child to have their own phone, which is a highly personal decision. When John moved from public elementary school to a charter school which was a 20 minute drive from home, we bought him a very basic cell phone so that he could call or text us. Once he was in middle school, he received his first smartphone (a hand-me-down when I bought a new model). We agonized over when to get him one. Thankfully, Rob is a tech guru. He checked it almost nightly for the first month. John also has to charge it at night in our room to ensure he wasn’t on it when he shouldn’t be. When he got his first computer, we put it in the family room for three years so that we could monitor him, plus we checked his browsing history for years on both his computer and phone (we still do today).
It’s hard to make sure your child is not just safe while using technology but also to not stop talking and interacting. You don’t want them to replace in-person communication with texting. It’s the biggest social skill they will need to develop as they turn into an adult. Just as learning how to use technology is vital in today’s Information Era. With planning, open communication, monitoring, rule setting and guidance, you can protect your child from hazards as they traverse the ever-changing world of technology and the web!