Parents today face an enormous challenge as we raise kids who are more tech savvy and comfortable using digital communications and social media than we are. There has been a fundamental shift in the way kids communicate today that previous generations of parents have not had to cope with. The good news is that you do not need to be a tech expert to parent effectively online. Following are some key tips and actionable advice to help parents safely manage tech use in their home. The first tip, start early!
Talk to your kids and set your expectations for acceptable use of technology before you allow your child access to a new device, gaming system or on to social media platforms. Recognize that kids do not see a difference in their online and offline lives, so your approach needs to be seamless. Incorporate technology in your discussions about your family values and goals. For example, when you teach the golden rule tell your children that you expect them to behave online as they would in person. Be open and honest about your fears and misgivings with allowing them to connect with others online, the type of content they may encounter or the potential for an unhealthy dependence on technology. But also acknowledge all the benefits and convenience that digital technologies provide as well. Most importantly, remain calm so that when issues arise your kids will feel comfortable bringing to your attention. You need to keep the lines of communication open, and the rest will follow.
Mentoring vs. Monitoring
I believe parents should emphasize teaching proper and responsible tech use and use monitoring software as a safety net. Strike a balance between the tech tools available for monitoring and the most important tool in your arsenal -- YOU! You cannot outsource parenting; there is no app that replaces your role as a guiding force in your child's life. Guide them on the proper and acceptable use of technology in their lives. Teach them to be their own self-advocates, to self-regulate, to achieve balance and about what it means to be a good digital citizen. Your focus should be proactive. Isn't it better to teach them to do right than to catch them doing wrong?
With the ground rules set, employ the offerings available to you to keep your kids safe and protected online. There are several monitoring apps and services on the market -- PocketGuardian, MamaBear and Verizon's FamilyBase to name a few, use these as an added resource to assist you. Any monitoring or restrictions you do set should be discussed upfront so you both understand how you will ensure their safety and behavior online. You don't want to spy on them, that will create distrust and keep your kids from talking openly about problems they do encounter.
Screen Time vs. Tech Diet
Technology is woven in to every part of our lives. Accept that this is the new normal. A recent Common Sense Media study found that teens are spending up to 9 hours a day engaging with media and technology. Parents need to be aware of this and set limits but also be respectful of your kids needs. Be open to discussion and compromise. For example, while I'd like Sunday to be a tech free day, I understand that my son is involved in fantasy football so we adjusted our screen time rules. My daughter likes to listen to music while doing her homework, perfectly fine since I remember doing the same growing up, but the TV remains off.
The total screen time amount is not the full story however, because not all screen time is equal. We need to understand what our kids are doing online and why. Are they connecting or disengaging? Learning or escaping? Creating or being passive consumers? All of this is okay within reason, as long as there is balance in their lives. There's a lot of junk online, but there are also great opportunities for learning, exploring, connecting and creative expression. With this in mind, the American Academy of Pediatrics has adjusted their recommendations for managing tech use at home.
Know Your Devices / Apps and How to Use Privacy Settings
Tech devices, gaming systems, smartphones, mobile providers, social media apps, and search engines have answered parents' call for help. Most, if not all, provide some form of parental controls, privacy settings and restricted access options. It's your job to use them! Learn how to set parental controls on the devices you give to your kids. Understand how to control privacy and safety settings on all the social media platforms your kids are using. It is important to know that per the terms of service (and in compliance with COPPA laws), kids must be 13 years old to use social media.
Work With your School and Teachers
Parents and teachers should support one another's efforts towards raising Good Digital Citizens. Focus on the positive aspects of digital learning such as individualized plans, connected learning, access to world-class resources, collaborative projects, and online sharing of creative and academic work. Our kids will need digital skills as they enter the workforce, so why not integrate technology in to all school subjects? We should embrace this change for the sake of our kids' future. Parents should support their schools efforts to bring 21st century learning into the classroom and reinforce appropriate tech use at home.
Good Role Modeling
The most important thing parents can do is to be a positive digital role model. Your approach to tech use in your home should follow and blend well with your families' values and goals. Make sure your kids know and can see how you use technology in your daily life. Model the balance: complement but don't replace face-to-face connections with technology. Use social media to share with loved ones but don't over-share! Be mindful when posting about your kids online, you are the keepers of their online footprint before they turn 13. Be respectful of others; behave online as you do in person. Don't use devices to distract you from being present, especially from your family. Know when to unplug! Put down your phone when you are behind the wheel if you want your teen to do the same. Encourage and model good digital citizenship. Be the change you want to see in your kids.
Cover image courtesy of Flickr.