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Another holiday season has come and gone and tech gifts (tablets, phones and laptops) were probably a popular choice in many households. While your teen or tween is pumped about their new device(s), it’s a perfect time to discuss strategies for appropriate and safe use. Why? As a parent and an educator, I’ve observed hundreds of tweens and teens as they struggled to manage the incredibly powerful digital tools and apps that they had at their disposal. My wife and I raised two children and there were numerous bumps along the way; the biggest involving technology and social media use.
Considering that the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain responsible for decision making and social behavior) doesn’t fully develop until the late teens or early twenties, many young people don’t fully appreciate the extent to which technology use can impact their lives. This can be a dangerous mix and poses a dilemma for every parent, especially when a child has a new device with unfettered access to the online world.
To add to this, technologies have become more ubiquitous in our daily lives, whether for work, study, entertainment or communication. As such, we are starting to see an increase in harmful consequences of being online for hours a day. For tweens and teens, instances of anxiety, depression, bullying and self-harm are all on the rise, most notably since the widespread adoption of smartphones and social media.
This puts parents in a tough spot, whether they are tech savvy or not. Nevertheless, parents need to take an active role when it comes to helping their child manage his/her online life.
Here are some practical tips to help your child on their screen journey:
1. Ensure that you have a strong relationship with your child.
Letting them know that you trust them is important as you want your child to come to you when they find themselves in a difficult or uncomfortable situation.
2. Be mindful of when you provide your child with their first smartphone.
They need to be mature enough to handle this responsibility. Just because their peers are getting devices doesn’t mean they have to. Organizations like Wait Until 8th (www.waituntil8th.org) encourage and empower parents to delay providing smartphones until the eighth grade. If your child needs to be able to contact you (or vice versa), a dumb phone like a Nokia flip phone will do the trick.
3. Set rules that outline the maximum amount of time that is to be spent online each day.
This can be monitored with software such as Apple’s Screen Time (my preference) or Android’s Family Link. Using these, limits can be set per app including an overall limit per day. You can also restrict websites and view what sites are being visited. Consequences for breaking established rules need to be fair and clear.
4. When rules are broken, consequences need to be handed out; no exception! In two parent households, often one parent is the enforcer and the other is the caregiver.
So when a difficult conversation needs to take place, both parents should be present for the discussion (a united front) and they should take turns explaining the consequences. When receiving bad news about technology mis-use, I recommend parents hold off on determining next steps until they’ve had time to cool down and discuss the matter privately.
5. Establish screen-free zones in your house so that you can be together as a family without the distraction of technology.
For my family this was always the dinner table; it provided us with the opportunity to have many important and interesting family discussions.
6. It’s important for every parent to be a role model when it comes to technology use.
If you are on a device during meals or other family time, this sets a bad example that your kids will certainly follow.
7. Educate yourself.
There are numerous websites, books, and articles that can provide the information and tools you need to be a well-informed and effective parent. Common Sense Media is one site worth your time.
Keep in mind that no matter what you do, things will never be perfect but by following these recommendations and developing some structure for your children, they will be better able to manage their online lives. Although technology does make your job as a parent a bit harder, creating a plan and sticking to it will benefit all members of your family.
Mel is a lover of tech who promoted and modeled technology for students, staff and parents at international schools in Asia and the Middle East. While he sees the value that technology provides, he’s scared of what technology is doing to all of us. He is the founder of Digital Black Belt Consulting, and leads digital awareness presentations in schools to students and their parents. More information is available at his website www.digitalblackbelt.ca
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