Technology for parents & kids: Hints, tips, online safety strategies & more.
Between smartphones, tablets, apps, portable media players, computers and connected video game systems, technology has permanently and irrevocably invaded kids’ lives. Cheerfully for today’s family, it can be an immensely rewarding and uplifting part of household hijinks, as long as parents and children observe a few simple rules alike. Following, you’ll find several expert strategies and tactics for making high-tech devices a healthy part of your home.
Make a Commitment to Education
Dozens of companies such as McAfee, Lookout and Symantec offer an equally dizzying array of software programs, apps and child-friendly Web browsers that block kids’ access to questionable content. But given the clip at which technology advances, and how savvy today’s tots are, don’t be fooled: Software’s no substitute for good, old-fashioned parenting, as an ounce of prevention far outweighs a pound of cure. Realize – homework is for parents as well as kids. As many new apps, gadgets, games and online services debut each week, and ways for connecting and communicating constantly emerge or evolve, technology’s a moving target. The only way to stay abreast of it, and meet the challenges it presents, is to constantly keep tabs on and personally try out new advancements. Ongoing research is crucial, as is investing time and interest: Like every other aspect of raising a healthy tot (i.e. feeding, clothing and teaching good manners), preparing them for life in a wired world requires a lasting commitment. Want to successfully equip sprouts to meet the challenge? It’s difficult to teach the rules of the game if you don’t spend the time to personally see just what it is you’re up against.
Keep Connected Devices in Common Rooms
It’s tempting to let kids keep computers, video game consoles and other Internet-ready devices in their bedrooms or other private areas. But speaking as a former teenage male, trust me: Screens should be confined to common areas of the home. Beyond allowing you to monitor kids’ play patterns, time investment and overall activity, doing so also allows you to see how sprouts are utilizing such systems in context, and whom they interact with. Granted, usage will obviously differ while a parent is present (it’s rare to meet a well-adjusted teen that doesn’t spout off at the mouth like a hardened sailor when adults are AWOL). But by being there during times of activity, even if only on the periphery, you will get a sense of children’s general computing habits, favorite apps/programs and the way in which kids employ such devices. Ancillary benefits are also substantial – i.e. not having to worry about a certain someone sneaking online to clock in time with World of Warcraft during the wee hours… at least, apart from Dad, that is.
Use Parental Controls
Expecting Web Watcher or Net Nanny to babysit your child is ludicrous. (Hint: Kids are smart, and have grown up alongside technology – if they can’t discover a workaround, chances are it’s just one search away on the Internet.) But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the wealth of great tools that manufacturers have put at your disposal. From Windows 7 to OS X Lion, the iPad and iPhone to PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, most mass-market computing and entertainment devices come with parental controls built-in. These controllable system settings – optionally guarded with a password – can limit access to questionable content, the Internet or hardware itself, or filter material by age-appropriateness. Using such off-the-shelf tools, it’s often simple to block R-rated movies and mature games, limit access to devices during off-hours, prevent downloadable purchases, and/or confine online interactions to pre-approved friend lists. The best part: Most are idiot-proof and readily accessible from the gadget’s Main or Settings menu, meaning even us clueless grown-ups can configure them in minutes without reading the user manual.
Guard Your Personal Information
The Internet can be a wonderful place, but it’s also an intensely public one, meaning you should approach it with the same reservations as any open forum. Moreover, no matter how much more intimate social networks like Facebook and Google+ seem, it’s important to remember: As with popular online video games (or any other space where we’re defined by virtual personas), everyone is, to some extent, playing a character. Note that many perfectly normal and healthy relationships can be formed online. But it never hurts to stay paranoid. To this extent, never give out personal information such as names, addresses, birthdays or telephone numbers, or reveal when you’ll be out of town – even if just expressing excitement over your fab upcoming Spring Break vacation. Likewise, use such services’ built-in tools and custom privacy settings to limit access to photos or video of yourself only to approved viewers. If nothing else, it’ll save some embarrassment when college recruiters or prospective employers eventually come looking.
Create and Enforce House Rules
Helping kids understand the difference between right and wrong starts with open and honest discussion. Begin by setting house rules which all family members agree on governing appropriate content, when it’s suitable to use high-tech devices (and in what context) and during which occasions – i.e. dinner – access is prohibited. Experts also agree that setting time limits on screen time is crucial for healthy development. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours daily, feel free to tinker slightly, offering more or less time as a reward or punishment for good or bad behavior. Some families even treat the use of high-tech devices as a privilege, incentivizing positive habits by offering kids screen time in exchange for doing chores, earning good grades or helping out around the house. Under all scenarios, kids should always feel comfortable approaching you with questions, whether regarding why rules exist and punishments were enforced, or concerning questionable content they encountered while using high-tech apps or devices.
Long story short: Technology can be an immensely beneficial and uplifting part of kids’ lives. But to realize it’s full potential, you’ve got to prepare them to meet its ups and downs, and – most importantly – commit to cruising right there alongside them on the rollercoaster ride.