Technology is here to stay—start teaching children responsible use of technology now.
I love technology. I love it enough that I might burst out in song about it, a la Kip from Napoleon Dynamite. It is so amazing! I don’t know what I ever did without things like my computer or my phone. (Okay, so I do know what I did without them, and it wasn’t really so bad.) For an introvert like me, the invention of email and texting was sent from Heaven!
But I also hate technology. I hate it with a fiery passion that makes me want to scream sometimes. And I hate it the most when it turns my children into glassy-eyed lumps on the couch. Just look at that picture up there (not my actual kids, but the kids in the photo sure do a great impression of them!)
It’s embarrassing. And infuriating! And mostly my fault.
After all, I’m the one that gave them their devices. I’m the one that allows them to be on the computer or to watch television. I’m the parent! But man, it’s difficult to control the beast once it has been unleashed into your home.
Technology is here to stay.
No matter how many times I want to take away their phones and iPods and never give them back, I realize that that is completely unreasonable. Technology is sticking around and it is better to learn to adapt and teach my children how to use it appropriately than it is to take it away completely. (Note: They are grounded from their devices when their behavior/attitude warrants it.)
There are a few things I’ve come up with that have helped us navigate the technology and electronics beast in our house. We aren’t perfect at enforcing everything all the time, I fully admit. However, these things do work well without having to completely take it away.
How to teach your kids responsible use of technology
Limit the time they are allowed to spend on screens. Limit the games and apps they are allowed to have on their devices. Limit the data they are allowed to use. Limit the type of shows they have permission to watch.
Make sure there are clear rules regarding electronics usage in your household and then follow through, follow through, follow through.
The one thing I’ve learned here is that if I miss one day of following through on the limiting rules I have set, it will immediately be taken advantage of. Especially the time limits and the rule that they are to leave their devices in the charging station outside my bedroom each night. If The Maestro and I don’t follow through on these things I will have three children with phones in their beds staying up hours after their bedtime watching YouTube videos.
You can also use a device such as the Circle with Disney or activate the Screen Time that is now on iOS. Both of these things have helped us to set and enforce limits much more easily.
Related: How I finally found a way to limit screen time without being the bad guy
Research & Censor
We have fairly high standards in our house regarding what types of movies and TV shows we allow our children to watch. Unfortunately, I am not familiar enough with every single show out there, and do not always know what is appropriate.
If they ask my permission to watch a show I know nothing about, I hop online and start researching it. I ask my friends if they know about it. I look on websites like Kids in Mind which lays out every reason why you might not want your child watching a particular movie. Once the research is done, we can make a more informed decision.
We have also set a passcode on our Netflix account so that a parent has to enter it in any time the kids try to watch a movie or television show above a certain rating. While it sometimes drives the kids nuts because I almost never enter the code, they also appreciate it when friends come over and try to encourage them to watch something they are not allowed to watch.
I still advise researching, simply because the very plot or nature of the movie may not be appropriate. Use good judgment and let your kids know that you are making these decisions because you love them and want them to keep high standards.
We have also turned off explicit songs on the kids’ spotify accounts and help them to find clean versions of the songs that they like—not always possible, but they are usually out there.
While it’s sometimes nice to let your kids go off to watch a movie while you get things done, it’s better to watch it with them. Or at least pop in and out. This allows you to have an idea of what they are watching and it also helps you have some good together time with your kids.
The same thing goes for the games they play online or on gaming systems, or the apps they have on their phone. As a parent, you need to be very aware of what they are—so many times a game that seems completely innocent turns out to be something very different!
Watching it together and researching beforehand give you an excellent chance to discuss a myriad of things relating to the technology your kids are consuming. You might have great discussions about why they will not be allowed to watch a certain movie or download a particular app. You will also be able to have good conversations about plot points, characters, and anything else you are seeing while watching together. Again, more quality time for you and your kids.
Make sure they understand the risks and dangers of social media and the internet in general. Give them a set of social media rules and discuss with them why they are necessary.
The technology discussion will never be over—there will always be new apps, new games, new movies, new tv shows, and never ending opportunities to discuss responsible screen time habits.
This is for the kids that have personal electronics devices. Make sure they understand from the get-go that those devices belong to YOU and that you are only allowing your kids to use them. Make it clear that you will have all passwords, passcodes, and any other pertinent information on their devices so that you can spy on them.
Of course, you’re not actually spying on them when you are telling them that’s what you’re doing! But don’t forget to do it. Read their texts, look at their social media, go through their YouTube history, and know exactly what they are doing on those devices. Then use your knowledge as an opportunity to discuss things with them.
For instance, I have been able to have some great conversations with my girls when I see texts that are not kind or are gossipy—sometimes they sent those texts, and sometimes their friends did. Either way, it is a good opportunity to discuss best practices.
Or we have been able to talk about some videos or music that may not be appropriate for them. Because of this, my girls are more sensitive to bad language in music or videos and I have observed them changing the channel on the radio in the car or turning off a YouTube video as soon as they hear something inappropriate. I appreciate that.
(I just realized that these tips spell out LEWDS—maybe that will be a great way to remember, since we’re hoping for our children to stay away from lewd media!)
Bonus Tip: Be an Example
If you want your kids to use their technology and media appropriately, than you have to do it, too. There can’t be double standards here. If they can’t watch an online video, than you shouldn’t watch it either. If they have limits on the time they spend on their devices, or are required to do chores before they can use them, then maybe you should apply those same limits to yourself.
There is no more powerful teacher than example.
Many parents choose to ban certain apps or video games out of hand, but we have decided that we would rather have them learn how to use it appropriately under our roof with our constant guidance. So far, it’s working well for us, and I’m seeing my children learn some great lessons surrounding technology use, and I am seeing them become more and more responsible with their technology.
And that makes me a pretty happy mom, even though I still occasionally find them on the couch with their eyes glazed over, staring at a screen.
This post is part of my 31 Days to a Happier Home series.
To see all the posts in this series, click here: 31 Days to a Happier Home
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