Are you introducing new technology to your home this holiday season? Whether you are giving a new smart phone, tablet, computer, or gaming system, these decisions can be a little scary. At times, it seems like you are inviting the world into your home—and into the hearts of your children. If you are anything like me, you have a love/hate relationship with technology—we love that we could go out to dinner and give our preschoolers a LeapPad to entertain them, but we hate how they now think every meal needs to include a device. We love how a tablet entertains our kids on a long drive, but we hate how they feel even a short drive across town requires some form of entertainment. We love how phones help us keep track of our independent teens, but we hate that the phone now seems to be glued to their palms 24×7.
I recently read the book Screens and Teens by Dr. Kathy Koch of Celebrate Kids. I initially started reading it in an attempt to find the golden egg to turn off my son’s screens and turn on his love for other things. What I found was a renewed understanding of the benefits of technology in his education and social interaction with the outside world. Along with this renewal, however, I also became more keenly aware of the inherent dangers in unhealthy digital habits. Twenty years into the technology explosion, there is clear evidence that habits developed early in life carry into adulthood, and there is a strong correlation between addictions to technology and the likelihood of other addictions.
While it is our natural inclination to block, lock down, and lock out as much as possible, it is clear that we are not doing our kids any great service by taking this approach. As parents, our job with technology, as with most things, is to teach them how to use it in a healthy and respectful way—beginning with the very first interaction. Working with several families in our ministry, who have kids ranging from preschool to college, we have made a list of recommendations to help you wade into the waters of technology.
First, when you introduce new technology in your home, establish the rules of engagement at the same time. It may seem like a buzzkill to say “Here’s your new phone, and here is the family contract.” But our parent group can share war stories over how they gave their kids a phone and then later wanted to impose stricter rules; trying to play catch up down the road only makes the situation worse. We recommend a family phone contract such as this free printable you can download here.
Many parents in the group also have some pretty common rules that seem to work in most homes:
*Phones need to be off and plugged into the centrally located family charging station by 9 p.m. each evening
*No phones, tablets, or computers allowed in the child’s bedroom—technology should only be used in public spaces
*No technology during dinner or family time
*Parents need all passwords regardless of the application
Be engaged with your kid’s media consumption. I have watched hours of Minecraft videos on YouTube, not because I love Minecraft, but because my son does. The time we spend snuggled up on the couch watching YouTube together is priceless, and the conversations we have had about what is really going on in his preteen world are worth every minute invested.
Be friends with your kids and their friends on social media. You don’t have to read every conversation your kids have online or in every app they are using. What they need to know is that you do follow them, and you do monitor what they are saying. We have recommended a social media contract, similar to the phone contract, which you can find on iMom.com. This is a great tool to make sure your kids understand the ground rules to using social media.
Monitor your child’s online activity. There are lots of tools in the marketplace, but the most flexible and easiest to use for our parent group was TeenSafe, which can be downloaded for both iOS and Android based devices. We ran a trial with our parent group this fall, and this is some of their feedback:
“The main feature that led us to use TeenSafe is the ability to see deleted text messages and web browser history. We have always told our children that we will monitor their phone usage, and they had to provide their passwords to us to be able to check their phones as we determined appropriate, but this only allowed us to see what was in their current messages and browser histories. Teen Safe allows us to see deleted messages and browser histories that have been deleted and are not currently visible on the phone.” ~Jay L.
For younger children just starting to use a tablet or computer, our parent group recommends a specific “kid safe” browser that filters out advertising, allows parents to choose appropriate applications and set time limits, and can be synchronized across multiple devices. There was no clear favorite among our parent group, but both KidZui and Zoodles were top recommendations.
There were two key takeaways from our parent group I want to share with you as you begin or continue this technology journey with you children:
1) Stay involved with your kids’ online lives. You don’t have to be a tech expert to ask them questions about the latest app or tool they are interested in.
2) Be flexible and willing to change as your kids mature and grow, realizing that the requirements for one child might not be the same for the next.
The bottom line is: know you are not alone and that questioning is a good thing. Be an engaged parent, and please engage with us, as well. We want to hear from you as we continue this parenting journey together. Join us today by clicking here.
Wishing you a Merry Christmas!
Christine Clark is the Ministry Coordinator for the Family and Children’s Ministry at Stonebriar Community Church. She has a passion for supporting parents and helping them gain confidence and tools to be spiritual leaders in their homes. She is blessed to be the mom of a middle school son and the wife of her college sweetheart for more than 20 years. She is also an avid sports fan who loves all things football, especially in the fall in Texas.