Technology for parents & kids: Hints, tips, online safety strategies & more.
Remember back when you were young, sitting in the back of the station wagon with your friends or siblings (facing backwards, of course), and you all were holding your own mini-TV watching whatever you want? Or remember when you bought that new Smurf plush and you could take it over to your friends’ house and watch it come to life in a video game? Or how about the time you were able to send instantaneous notes to any of your middle school classmates at all hours of the day? Of course you don’t remember doing any of these, because way back when, these things were the stuff of dreams or science-fiction fantasy. But now, thanks to advancements in technology for kids, smartphones, tablets and video games like Skylanders suddenly make these fantasies real. So what’s a parent to do these days when all their frames of reference from their childhood are irrelevant and all their instincts are incomplete due to overwhelming tech overload? When it comes to kids and technology, here are five digital parenting tips that any modern parent will find useful.
Create a Community – The reality is that families everywhere are facing tough digital decisions when it comes to parenting. When is the right age to buy a cell phone? What about an iPod Touch? Which video games are appropriate? Talk to other parents about your feelings on these issues and to find out theirs. Chances are, you can suss out some great tips and learn a bit about what kids are dealing with these days. And don’t forget to talk to teachers, too. They’re often at the front lines of the latest trends that kids are obsessed with and talking about.
Establish ground rules for your family – Just like every kid is different, every family is different, so take charge and set the ground rules regarding technology use that are right for your family. Start with considering screen time limits. For starters, determine what counts as screen time. Is it TV watching? Do smart phones and tablets count? What about homework in front of the computer? Establish what a need is and what’s a privilege, and consider using a baseline like two hours a day of screen time, and add or subtract time based on good behavior or as punishment. Talk about movie and video game ratings, and determine where you’ll draw the line for your family. It’s imperative to have these conversations, and to continue to have them as they grow older, as these ground rules establish the baseline for all your family’s digital media and decision making in the future.
Focus on the Positive, Not Just the Negative – While a decade ago frenzied parents were beside themselves at the horror of online predators stalking chatrooms looking for their next victims, the reality is that most kids are exposed to only appropriate behaviors most of the time. Instead of focusing solely on the bad apples, it’s important to teach kids the virtues of positive Digital Citizenship, the ability to apply real-life morals and judgments to online activities. While cyberbullying, identity theft and cybercrimes are real threats, the real value comes in teaching kids how to appropriately act, and to know how to react if they ever do happen to encounter these negative behaviors.
Kids and Technology: Know Your Boundaries – Although we do recommend you connect with your kids on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus or any other social network they may be on, you as a parent need to also know your boundaries, just as you do in real life. You wouldn’t rush the soccer field or take out the other team’s goalie just to help them score a goal, so don’t feel the need to interject yourself into their online interactions and happenings. By connecting with them, and even establishing that you may check their e-mails from time-to-time (with a bit of a warning), the notion of parental proximity is enough to keep kids in line.
Capitalize on Together Time When You Can – While you should keep at arm’s length from certain online activities your kids have with their friends, don’t be afraid to use technology as a tool to help bring your family closer together as well. Play video games with your kids, or establish a family game or movie night in which technology plays a large role. Not only will this help keep you up to speed on how the latest gadgets and apps work, it’s also an invaluable chance to connect with your kids on their turf, and can provide great perspective into their thoughts and dreams about all sorts of issue, not just on the specific game or movie you’re playing.
For more information on kids technology and digital parenting, be sure to download our free Modern Parent’s Guide high-tech parenting books at www.parentsguidebooks.com.