Despite known concerns about children using technology, ranging from developmental implications and online bullying to addiction, a lot of parents don’t think about technology use before it’s been introduced.
For some, devices replaced the old role of television as babysitter to jump in the shower, make dinner, or have peace and quiet while sitting in traffic. Or use began innocently in school as part of the curriculum and before you know it, your child had homework that required surfing online. For others, it started off as a means to stay connected with distant relatives or so that a child could be reached when needed. Whatever the case, latitude in use often increased without careful thought first and as a result, many of us find ourselves trying to catch up to the technology, provide some guidance, and set limits well after our children are already engaged.
A few years ago the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) introduced recommendations for media guidelines. If you’re an expecting parent or parent of a small child, these are great and realistic recommendations. The best part of these guidelines is the notion of planning. Too many times parents haphazardly hand over an iPhone without thinking–when out to dinner or in a pinch to calm a fidgety, screaming toddler–and therefore unintentionally set a precedent. The truth is using a device is fun and engaging. You enjoy it and so will your child so before you just hand it over, you need to consider a few things. Are you sure you want your child begging for your iPhone at every meal? Have you tried other things before you give in (e.g. packing along crayons and paper or playing table games like eye spy with my little eye)? Even more helpful, the AAP created an interactive media planning tool for families that is determined by age of the child. Parents should be intentional about when devices are introduced and the AAP’s guidelines and online planning tool are great resources if you are expecting or have a young child.
But if you are like me and already have a child using a device regularly, you have more of a challenge. Pandora’s box has been opened and it is nearly impossible to go back and hit the reset button completely. It’s just not realistic for parents to implement all of AAP’s guidelines for children, particularly older children, who have been using devices for years. Yet, it’s never too late to pause and evaluate your relationship with devices, monitor how that relationship might be developing for your child, and tweak the AAP’s guidelines so that you meet your child where they are in their relationship with their beloved device.
Here are five things every parent needs to discuss and continually evaluate particularly if they have older children who are already using devices.
- Create a plan as a family and continually assess and update it as needed. Just as you would discuss how you’re going to discipline children so that there’s a common understanding and united front, you should also discuss and create family rules and expectations around using a device, even for older children.
- Discuss your parental right to change your mind at any time. You will need to make sure your children understand that all ground rules can and should be updated or changed as needed. Technology is always evolving and your understanding and accompanying rules should equally evolve as needed.
- Set restrictions at every age. I’m always surprised at the number of parents that don’t set any restrictions on use or set the access restrictions directly on an Apple device itself. On an iPhone, if you go under “settings” and then “general,” you can select a rated level of content, music, YouTube videos, location finders, and more on a scale of G to X or by age. You’re able to set these restrictions with a password so that your cleaver child can’t turn it off. Once you’ve set physical restrictions on the device itself, set usage restrictions. For example, how many hours a day will you allow a device to be used and is use during dinner off limits? I don’t care if your child has been using devices for years without any limitations. This is something that’s never too late for any of us to do, adults included.
- Stay abreast of technology trends, news, and tools that assist in ensuring appropriate use. Again, technology is always evolving, so should your knowledge about it. There are great resources like the new quiz created by Pew Research Center that point out the somewhat obvious fact that there are still far too many adults, let alone kids, that are unclear about basic concepts related to using technology safely. This 10-question quiz is a great way for you to learn what you don’t know about cybersecurity and then impress your tech-savvy child with your newfound knowledge. They will most likely find the information just as interesting which might elevate your “cool” factor. Most important, the quiz is a fun and quick way to learn how to be safer online. There are also several organizations such as Common Sense Media and their new #DeviceFreeDinner campaign that help parents and schools with efforts to have a healthy relationship with technology.
- Continually check your own relationship with devices. Kids need to see your relationship with devices evolve just as theirs will need to evolve. If you struggle to “turn it off” and set limits for yourself, talk to your child about it and let them be a part of your own plan to improve. The point is, children need to witness the evolution of having a healthy relationship with technology, even the stuff that might be hard.
If I had to do it all over again, I would delay use as long as possible. The longer you get children to wait, the longer you have to help them mature and truly understand the responsibility. I’m no expert on the matter but the technology genius of all geniuses, Bill Gates, didn’t allow his children to have a cell phone until they were 14 years old. Apple Founder Steve Jobs didn’t allow his children to use an iPad whenever they wanted. He enforced restrictions in his home, much to his kids dismay, because he understood parents need to protect children from the dangers of technology.
But if you already have a child that’s device savvy, it’s not too late to roll up your sleeves, learn, and discuss the many challenges associated with using devices at every age. These life-changing gadgets are here to stay and having a relationship with a device will need ongoing assessment, management, course correction, and overall TLC throughout life.