Smart Modern Parents know that they cannot shield their kids from technology use – to do so would be a disservice to their kids, as technology is an important aspect to modern life. Our kids will more than likely have to use technology as adults, so teaching them responsible use now in the safety of the family system is best in the long run.
Even smarter Modern Parents understand that it is best to teach their kids to control technology instead of letting technology control them. But the question remains: by letting our kids have access to technology (i.e. cell phones and the internet), are we exposing them to unnecessary dangers? How do we even start the process of teaching our kids safe and responsible tech use?
Our Modern Kids Are Never Far From Technology
Current statistics paint a picture where technology is at the modern family’s fingertips 24/7 – and kids are being exposed to television, cell phones, tablets, and computers at earlier and earlier ages. For example, the average age for a child to get their first cell phone is at 12 years of age.
Not only are kids using tech at very young ages, but tech is everywhere we look now. We can access the Internet on our computers, phones, tablets, in our cars, and now on our watches! And if you think that our kids only have access to the internet while in our homes, then you are forgetting about the opportunity to access the internet at school, at friends’ houses, and even for free at the library!
Internet safety starts to become an issue when our kids reach middle school age. It is during this time that kids need to use the internet at school to access learning resources and at home to do reports. It is also during this time that social media sites start to become desirable to our preteens. If we do not take control of our child’s technology use and teach our kids safe and responsible habits regarding technology, then we risk dangerous future consequences.
The following 4 points are my standard suggestions when discussing safe and responsible tech use to parents. If you implement these 4 suggestions, then you will set your child up for a lifetime of safe and responsible tech use.
1. Know the what, how, why, and how long of your child’s tech use. As a modern parent, it is important that you do not bury your head in the sand with regard to your child’s tech use. Be sure you know the following facts:
- How – Know what tech devices your child is using. Do they have access to a computer, iPad, or smartphone? Do they have access to the internet on their gaming console? What about their eBook reader? The more you understand tech, the safer your child will be.
- What – There are many uses for tech – surfing the internet, playing video games, communicating with other people through social media – and in order to monitor your child appropriately, you need to be aware of how they are using technology.
- Why – Does your child need to use the computer to research and then write a paper for school? Are they keeping up with their friends on social media? What about playing an online game with strangers?
- How Long – Always monitor how long your child uses tech – kids can mindlessly spend time playing games, watching YouTube videos about cats, or texting with friends if left unmonitored. Establish how much is too much for your child and make sure they stick to this time limit.
2. Set clear, reasonable guidelines for tech use. Make sure your child understands what is expected of them right from the start. Every family has their own individual passions, values, and beliefs and it is your job as the parent to teach your child responsible tech use according to these core principles.
In my experience with working with parents over the years, I have found that many well-meaning parents either don’t know how to talk to their kids about responsible tech use or they assume that their kids already know these crucial details.
To make talking to your kids about responsible tech use and internet safety easier for you, I have created 2 contracts that should make having these conversations with your child more effective: the Cell Phone Contract Between Parent and Child and the Social Media Contract Between Parent and Child. These are free downloads for my readers and I encourage you to download them and share them with other parents.
The best way to use these contracts is to view them as the starting point in your conversation with your child about responsible cell phone use and safe social media habits. Be sure that you modify the contracts by adding your personal values and beliefs regarding cell phones and social media use.
3. Monitor your child’s internet use. Scary fact: while a vast majority of teens (90%) say their parents trust them to be responsible online, 45% said they would change something about their online behavior if their parents were watching. That means almost half of kids having access to smartphones, tablets, and computers are possibly putting themselves at risk.
The take-home message here is that parents should be monitoring their kids more closely while they are accessing the Internet. On the bright side, the good news is that these same kids surveyed reported that they didn’t mind their parent monitoring their online activity and, in fact, that they were rarely bothered with a parent looking over their shoulder while they were online.
This tells me that our kids want the security of knowing that their parents will step in when needed to prevent them from getting into dangerous territory concerning online dangers. One recommendation that I often tell parents is to put internet security software on your child’s smartphones, tablets, and computers. This way you can have the peace of mind of knowing that your child is safe from online predators, cyber bullies, pornography, and tech over-use – even when you are away from your child.
4. Model Tech use habits that are balanced and safe in front of your child at all times. The best way to teach your child to use technology safely and responsibly is to model this behavior in your everyday life. Make sure that you are:
- Spending time with family and friends offline
- Putting down your phone, tablet, or computer when talking with your family members
- Don’t “hide” what you are doing on your tech devices – this suggests that you are doing things with tech that is not allowed in your family
- Don’t isolate yourself with tech – watch movies, Netflix, etc with your family members
- Basically, don’t do anything with tech in front of your child that you would not want them doing with their own tech devices.
Modern parents need to take their child’s tech use seriously. Set clear rules and expectations regarding tech use in your home and always monitor your child’s use of their smartphone, tablet, game console, and computer.
Use the Cell Phone Contract Between Parent and Child and the Social Media Contract Between Parent and child to get the conversation started and be sure to update these contracts each year with your child as their maturity and responsibility increases.