Don’t have kids!
That’s the plan.
OK, just kidding!
Seriously though. Every day it seems like something awful is happening. The world is headed to hell in a handbasket. And for all of our education and resources, childhood and adolescence seem to be getting more and more difficult by the day.
For those of us who have already blown past that exit, now what?!
There’s no turning back.
But there is hope. A lot of hope actually!
The “easy” options are at either end of the spectrum –
A. Allow your kids, at some stage, to have access to social media and the internet and do nothing to monitor or sanction it. But what age is appropriate? How much screen time is too much?
Z. Don’t allow your kids to have access to a cell phone or internet until they leave your home. But how will you keep tabs on them when they are out and about with friends? Will they be able to regulate themselves once there aren’t any restrictions?
Feel free to disagree with me, but I’m a pretty firm believer in Billy Gardell‘s position – “You don’t want your kid playing with marbles saying, ‘my dad says this is a video game!'”
As parents, many of us are aiming for somewhere in the middle. You don’t want your kid to be an outcast or a pariah, but you also don’t want your kid to be so consumed with social media and technology that they can’t function in social situations with real people face-to-face.
Here are some key tips:
Decide – What age is appropriate to give a child a cell phone and/or allow them access to social media? You have to decide what age that is. There are a lot of opinions; but, at the end of the day it’s your kid and your household. Obviously, this gets more complicated in situations where separation or divorce is involved. (There will be more on co-parenting tips in a future blog post.) Determine what limits you will set on screen time and how to enforce it. Consider this article from the Guardian in which they discuss how tech moguls approach tech with their own households.
Discuss – Talk with your child about the positives and negatives of social media. The older the child and the higher their intellectual capability, the more this will be a back and forth discussion where they have some say in the matter. You can make having access to their usernames and passwords a condition of them having their cell phone and social media accounts. If you go that route, don’t be surprised if they create second or fake accounts. Sinead Smyth, LMFT writes for the Gottman Institute and recommends becoming a “digital mentor” and making open discussion a regular part of family life.
Pay Attention – Show your child attention. Be aware of what you’re modeling to them through your own social media use. Take an interest in their lives whether it’s school, sports, activities, social life, etc. The best way I’ve heard it put is, “if you don’t pay attention to your kids, then somebody else will.” (Jason McBeth, School Psychologist Fairfax County Public Schools).
Educate – Know what apps your child is using and downloading. When possible have a joint Apple or Android ID so that you have control over, are notified or can check what they have downloaded. Do what you can to stay up on current trends in social media and new apps that are becoming popular. You can always stop by a cell phone provider store like the Apple store and ask them to check your phone or Apple ID for any suspicious apps.
There are websites such as CommonSenseMedia.org that help parents stay current on social media apps and trends. The website and its users rate the apps and people can post reviews with positives and negatives.
Another great site is the Screenagers Movie Website which shows where you can view a screening; Dr. Ruston posts weekly on her Tech Talk Tuesdays, and there are a host of tips and tools on their Resource page.
All devices come with parental control settings. There are a number of services that allow you to monitor your devices for negative content. Services and apps such as Net Nanny, ScreenTime, and FamilyTime just to name a few.
Here are some red flags to look for:
- If they don’t appear to have any social media apps on their phone desktop
- If they have multiple phones or a phone that you didn’t supply them with
- If they don’t seem to have new photos on their camera roll
- If they have mirroring apps like SnapCrack
- If they have fake apps like the fake calculator or secret folder
Look, short of an apocalyptic event, tech is here to stay! We can’t afford to bury our heads in the sand and not be involved in this part of our childrens’ lives. But devoting a little bit of time away from our favorite tv show or hobby to educate ourselves will help bridge the gap in order to stay connected with our kids. Having those discussions will bring about better communication and will help us to learn a few things along the way.
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