As I sat listening to the older, seasoned women in the room talk, I came to the horrifying realization that we were alone. My generation of parents were the pioneers in learning how to parent children in the digital-crazed, media-filled modern day. On most parenting topics, we can turn to people who have been there, done that. Even if the world is a bit different, we can glean wisdom because the basic problems faced are the same.
But the digital world has changed that.
We don’t have previous wisdom to tell us what age is wise to allow a child to get a cell phone. We don’t have data to show the impact of too much social media, or even too little media. I mean, we are living in a digital world; will children be able to grow to be adults who can function in society if they are simply banned from digital media throughout their childhood?
That horrifying realization was about ten years ago. We knew very little then. We could postulate and hypothesize. We did not know for sure, though.
Ten years is a long time, and we now have some evidence of what media is doing to our world. We are starting to have young adults come into society having a hard time interacting face to face; they are used to interacting over things text and SnapChat. Granted not all early 20-somethings are that way, but it is prevalent in society.
The concern goes beyond concern for social skills, however. It goes deeper than that. It goes to concern for moral skills.
When children and teenagers (and even adults!) have the Internet at their fingertips 24 hours a day, they do more than surf and chat with friends. Many times, they chat with strangers and end up in morally compromising situations. Many times, they find themselves caught up in pornography.
So how do we protect our children from this pitfall?
Remember when I said even if the world is different, we can glean wisdom from those who have gone before us? Even in facing the digital unknown, we can apply that principle.
What are some core values we can look to? What can we do with our children even from a young age to help protect them against media pitfalls down the road? How can we possibly manage this without years of wisdom to guide us? Here are some ideas.
1-You are the parent, and therefore in charge
Always keep this in mind. You are the parent, so you are the one in charge. That means you get to set the rules. That means you get to set the limits. That means you get to set the limitations. Keep this in mind from the time your child is young and on up. Your child has one set of parents, but many friends. Do not neglect the parenting role in order to try to fill the friend role. Have the Courage to Be a Parent. See also:
2-Start as you mean to go on
Start as you mean to go on. We talk about this with sleeping and with simple discipline rules. Do the same thing with your media and technology rules. Do not start something with a toddler or preschooler that you don’t want happening with a teenager. Always keep prevention in mind. It is easier to prevent problems than to fix problems. Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t ever change a rule or update a rule. Just be aware of habits you are allowing to form and precedents you are setting and be sure they are habits you are okay with.
3-Limit the amount of time your child is using technology
Keep your child plugged into the world around her. Do not let her only interact with the online world. Have her interact with the people around her, also. It is okay for you to have a time limit on how much technology can be consumed in a day. It is okay to just not allow any technology on certain days. I have a friend who doesn’t allow any television or video games at all except on Saturdays. We do a three hour video game limit per week at our house. There are a lot of ways you can go, and there isn’t one right way for every family or for every season. If the precedent is that there are limitations, then even when the limitations change, your child will understand that limitations exist in your home. For more on this topic, see Balancing Technology and also Digital Overload and What to Do About It.
With that said, technology is part of life. Do not try to just banish it from your family’s life. You want to teach your children to learn to manage it. Help them learn to use technology for their own good and for helping others. What you want to avoid is your child letting technology use them.
4-Keep technology off at certain times
Today we have smartphones and tablets. When I was a kid, it was the television. While we have 24 hour finger access to technology, the idea of technology infiltrating the home is not new. Having the phone ring on the wall isn’t that different from your phone beeping to alert you of a text. What is the wisdom from those who came before us?
Have times when technology is not turned to. Have family dinner without interruptions from the television, Facebook, or texting. Choose other times to just have the phones and devices put away. Make a policy. Make it a tradition. Make it what you do. Do it now so it is just the way it is when your children are teenagers.
5-Do not allow electronics to be taken into the bedroom
When my children are second graders and really grow into being avid readers, I get them a Kindle Fire (affiliate link) for Christmas. The perk of the Fire is that you can watch movies on it and play games on it, which is great if you are going on a long car ride and don’t have a TV in your car.
As my children got older, however, I became increasingly uncomfortable with them taking the Internet to their bedroom each night. They were reading books, but as they got older, the possibility of them using the Internet and having something pop up became more and more of a concern. They say that it is not a matter of IF your child will see something in appropriate on the Internet, but WHEN. I don’t want that when to be in their bedroom alone at night.
Computers are not new to the world, and a long-standing piece of advice for families has been to put the computer in a common area in the home so that people can not use it privately. That is the wisdom I have to look at from those who came before me. Keeping that same idea, it made no sense to send the Internet into my child’s bed each night.
With that realization, I literally purchased (affiliate link) Kindle Paperwhites for Brayden and Kaitlyn the next day. I don’t love spending money, especially when I basically already have the item. They both had Fires already. They read on their Fires. But the cost was low in my mind. I got them each a Paper White without the special offers. I didn’t want them getting advertising. They are not allowed to take the Fire into their bedrooms. They can take their Paperwhite with them to bed to read at night.
I know a lot of families have a common charging station in the kitchen or other public area. Everyone plugs their phones and other devices in at the charging station each night. That way you can be sure
devices are not being taken to the bedroom.
6-Always have a policy that you can check any device, any time
Make a habit to check devices. Monitor what has been going on with the device. What texts have been made, what phone calls have been made, what websites have been visited? Now, sadly the world of technology changes constantly and apps are created to be able to do things untracked. That leads us to…
7-Stay aware of trends
It is wise for you to find someone to follow who is on the up and up with technology. Unless you are an expert, you won’t be able to keep up. Find people you can follow who will keep up for you. Two ideas for you are Common Sense Media or The Cyber Safety Lady. Remember, technology changes more often than you changed your clothes when you had a newborn. You have to choose to be aware. What is the latest app being used? Be friends with your child on any social media site she is on. You might even require that you have the password as well.
8-Be an example
Parental example is always the first place a child looks to learn about life. Be an example of wise media use. Do not let your phone rule your life. Interact with your child and not your phone. Let that text message wait until after dinner. Resist the urge to pull the phone out every time you are bored. For young children, your example is the most profound teacher in life.
Enough time has now passed that we do have parents to look to with advice for technology and students. We don’t have to fly blind. We also can look at basic standards that have stood the test of time and apply them to our families and technology use. We don’t have to navigate this blindly, and we don’t need to be horrified at the task before us. We can do it if we only try!