Technology is a parenting issue that we deal with pretty much on a daily basis. It can be tricky to navigate, especially when it’s ever-changing and our kids are often more up to date than we are!
These are vital practical tips that will support you to manage the big issues in parenting and technology with success.
1. BE AWARE OF THE RISKS
So, what are the risks associated with technology, getting online and using personal devices?
Here are a few of the main ones.
This is an issue that most of us didn’t have to deal with growing up but is now a very real and difficult issue for kids. It’s no less damaging than traditional bullying and, in many ways, it’s even worse! Technology can potentially allow a bully constant access. Just think how terrifying and stressful that is for kids! Bullying.com has fantastic advice about cyberbullying that includes the definition, the effects, and what to do.
Sexting is sending, receiving or forwarding sexually explicit messages or images. Teens might sext because it has been normalized, or because there’s pressure or even blackmail. Do Something have some useful facts about sexting.
Pornography is now considered an international pandemic. Did you know that most stats say that the average age of first exposure is 11 years old? Or that 29% of 15 year olds access pornography everyday? But, even more alarmingly, Bitdefender (an online security company) have produced research that the under 10 age group is now accounting for 1 in 10 visits to porn video sites! Porn is just 2 clicks away on some of the most popular sites and apps.
Needless to say, this can be incredibly damaging and upsetting for kids, and can too frequently lead to addiction- 10% of children in 7th grade have stated that they may have an addiction issue and may not be able to stop.
Grooming is a risk that gets a huge amount of attention. The NSPCC has lots of information around grooming. They define grooming to be “when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them.” They also point out that a child is unlikely to know they have been groomed. And that any child is at risk!
Remember that your Kids are Vulnerable Online!
When you hand a child a smartphone or an iPad, we are giving them the whole internet into their hands. They might come across mature content or engage in inappropriate relationships accidentally or out of curiosity, but there is a huge risk that the results will be damaging or upsetting.
This is without a doubt one of the biggest challenges of parenting and technology!
Remember that your child is incredibly vulnerable in lots of ways. It’s our job as parents to both protect them and equip them.
The challenge is to demonstrate incredible parenting with technology, as much as with any other area of childhood and life.
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2. TEACH YOUR KIDS TO MAKE GOOD CHOICES FROM AN EARLY AGE
Hands-on parenting is being able to have open discussions even about difficult subjects.
Most parents will have a ‘sex talk’ at some point with their kids. But the best time to do this is before a situation comes up. The most effective way is to teach values from an early age with more information as they get older. And technology has made it crucial to include online life in this discussion.
Talk about Risks and Consequences
Talk with your kids about the risks and potential consequences of sending explicit photos of yourself. Remind them that once they hit send, they lose control over where that image travels. It’s a permanent record that can have negative impacts years later. It affects a larger number than we think and the chances are that your child will be confronted with this at some stage. It’s our job as parents to make sure they are prepared for when it happens, not if it happens.
Chat about cyber-bullying, too. The scary thing is that most cyber-bullies don’t mean to bully, they might even say that they were just joking. Help your child to understand the harmful impact that words can have. Teach them to be careful about what they say to others, especially online when there is no tone, facial expression or body language to support meaning.
Make an action plan for what they can do if they feel that someone is ever saying unkind things to them. Again, do this before the situation comes up!
Porn is also an issue that we can’t avoid. Educate your kids on what a good relationship should look like, and how to show love and affection to others in age appropriate ways. There’s a huge chance that they will accidentally be exposed to this content, even if it’s through a friend. The better prepared they are to understand what a healthy and happy relationship looks like, the less detrimental effect this material will have.
3. LET THEM KNOW YOU’RE INTERESTED IN THEIR ONLINE LIFE, TOO- YOUR PARENTING INVOLVES TECHNOLOGY!
Encourage Open Discussions
Encourage open discussions about technology. Make it positive and talk to your kids about what they love about technology and what they enjoy doing online.
Ask them to show you what they’re doing so you can see how it works and share it with them. Let them know that you are also interested in their life online.
When you see something you are worried about, try to stay calm and positive. You could say something like, “some of the things I’ve seen on that site make me a little worried.” Tell them why in an age-appropriate way.
Let Them Know They Can Come to You
Ask them to come to you when they see things that they’re worried about, too. When you stay calm and positive, you are reassuring them that they can do this and that you won’t be angry with them.
You are there to help them and support them, and will help them to figure things out.
In the same way that you would ask them about friends they are hanging out with in person, ask them about their friends online. Again, reassure them that you are interested in their life, and you want to know who they spend time with. You might also need to ask them how they know their friend is who they say they are.
When your child wants to use a new site or download a new app, don’t dismiss it but listen to their reasons. Discuss it openly together. Again, stay calm and positive! Don’t leap to conclusions but listen and explain your decisions. This will help them to understand your thinking.
By modelling your problem-solving and values in these discussions, you are growing their skills to make good decisions about these things in the future.
Involve Kids in Decision Making
When you introduce any of the practical steps in this post, make sure that you discuss it with them. Explain your reasons and ask for their opinion. Let them feel involved and part of the decisions.
Again, modelling this process is part of teaching and helping them to develop the skills that they will need.
Teach kids about healthy relationships and how to stay safe online. By doing this, you are teaching them to handle technology responsibly from a young age. This will equip them to deal with challenges that they will inevitably face when they get older.
4. USE THE RIGHT BOUNDARY AT THE RIGHT TIME
I attended a parenting and technology chat, and the championed solution from one or two of the older people was to advise parents not to give kids devices until they’re 18 and can handle the responsibility.
Spot any flaws with this plan?
For one, technology and devices are already a huge part of our children’s world. They’re used in school for learning and are often required by the school to complete assignments at home. Their friends are likely to have devices so most kids have pretty easy access to a device, even if they don’t own one.
Technology is already part of the world and kids need to have strong technological skills to be well-equipped for jobs they will do as adults. The potential is amazing, but as we discussed earlier, so is the risk.
There must be boundaries in place, but it can be hard to know how much freedom kids should have.
Consider the Age of Your Child
A toddler spending time on an iPad is missing out on vital play and interaction. Any time spent in front of technology is time away from real life interactions. These are the times your toddler truly learns so it’s important to safeguard these times!
A ten year old, however, is likely to be online often in school and at home or with friends. A child of this age will need lots of guidance and teaching, as well as some measures in place to protect them as much as you can.
A seventeen year old is already making significant life choices on their own. At this age, you can still be there to discuss and give advice, but it’s more than likely that you will have removed the protective measures of that of a younger child.
Scale your response depending on the age and individuality of each child. And make sure that your response comes with great conversations to back it up!
Practical Ideas for Boundaries Within Technology and Parenting
- Consider a time limit for technology. Especially for younger kids, you might even allow just 30 minutes per day. For a toddler, research shows that more than this can have a negative effect. For an older child, you can decide how long is appropriate- ensuring that it’s part of a discussion. You might even need to plan the alternatives. For example, “you can use the iPad for half an hour, but then it’s time to go outside“.
- Consider introducing technology free spaces. Maybe it’s a family rule that no-one has devices at the kitchen table?
- Bedroom boundaries: I’d suggest that for at least a child or younger teen, don’t allow them to take the device into their bedroom at night. Not only does it affect their sleep (the light from technology drains melatonin and wakes you up), but it means you can’t see what they are accessing. One of the biggest risks is social media and the risk of cyber bullying. It can make your child feel powerless and trapped- nowhere is safe anymore. Imagine if, when you were growing up, you could never escape your bully. Cyberbullying is like having a bully in your bedroom at night.
Communicate about ‘Online Life’
- Communicate about who they are talking to online, what sites they love visiting and their favourite things to do online. Discuss this in a positive way- technology is cool and you want to share and enjoy it with them! Especially for a younger child, you might have a bookmarked tab of favourite sites that you have agreed they can visit.
- Put blocks in place. Remember that when you give a child a smartphone, you are putting the whole internet into their hands. Putting blocks doesn’t mean you don’t trust them, but it’s necessary scaffolding until they learn to judge well for themselves. Think of it like a toddler gate. Kids can stumble onto these sites by accident or without meaning to, so it’s really important to block content you don’t want your child to see. Lifewire has very clear, step by step guidance on putting blocks in place to stop your child seeing adult-content sites.
- Social Media- this includes: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat… with more being created regularly! Most social media sites require their users to be at least 13 years old. This is dictated by law and is to do with the the Privacy Protection Act and the kind of data that is collected on users. New Idea goes into depth about each social media platform, the risks associated with underage use, and the reason for the age restrictions that have been put in place.
5. WHAT AGE SHOULD YOUR CHILD GET A PERSONAL DEVICE?
The age that you get your child a device is such a personal decision. It depends on different factors.
- Think about why they need it
- Consider your child’s maturity
- Make a plan for how you can reduce the risks that will be involved
- Decide what boundaries will be in place
- Discuss with your child! Come to an agreement if possible.
Remember that simply handing a child a smartphone will expose them to a huge variety of dangers. However, simply putting off getting them a phone is no guarantee that they will not be exposed to these things another way.
In the end, we can’t bubble wrap our kids. Our job as parents is to protect our kids and teach them to make good choices, but in the end we have to allow freedom for them to actually make these choices.
Ideally, we will teach them to be responsible online so that as they get older and have more freedom, they can make good choices.
Creating Technology Free Times
I mentioned already about creating technology free spaces such as the table and kids’ bedrooms. But what about parenting with technology free times?
I have heard of a family who are doing:
- One technology free hour per day
- A technology free evening per week
- One technology free weekend per month
- And, One technology free week each year
This might not be exactly what you choose to do, but consider the idea of carving out technology free spaces and technology free times. Spend this time building family relationships and having fun without technology!
Great Books that Deal with Parenting and Technology
“Making conscientious choices about technology in our families is more than just using internet filters and determining screen time limits for our children. It’s about developing wisdom, character, and courage in the way we use digital media…”
Calmer Easier Happier Screen Time: For parents of toddlers to teens: A guide to getting back in charge of technology
This book is excellent but is more focused on managing and limiting screen time. She uses scientific research to show just how addictive the digital world can be for the developing brain of a child and gives great advice for parents around this.
TO SUM UP
It can be a huge mistake to simply give a child a smartphone and leave them to it. The risks are enormous with stats to back up the many dangers.
But it’s equally dangerous to shield your kids totally from the challenge of technology. If we aren’t teaching them to use technology successfully in small steps, then they may not have the ability to make good choices when we inevitably reach the point that we can no longer shield them.
Parenting and technology happens most successfully when we are balanced.
When we teach them from a young age, and put the emphasis on good choices, we will equip our kids with crucial skills that they need for life.
One thing is for certain- technology is already here and will be a huge part of our kids’ future.
That being said, let’s put our technology parenting skills to work and teach them to manage it well!
Thanks for reading! Please share this post if you found it helpful and leave a comment to let me know what your experiences have been.
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