After a Christmas, kids have many new gadgets that need to be integrated into the home. Tablets (iPads, Google Tablets, etc) smart phones, video game consoles (XBox 360, Wii U, PS3, etc.) and handhelds (Nintendo 3DS, Play Station Vita, etc.), and other devices bring with the excitement a great responsibility for the parent and the child. These devices offer great learning and entertainment opportunities but also come with dangers. Here is a handy guide for parents of kids managing digital devices and media.
- Account for Development: Early childhood involvement with electronic gadgets may seem easy due to targeted development and marketing of products for toddlers through elementary school; however, many of the toys or applications require or allow access to the Internet and thus require parental control. Young children need constant supervision often for the safety of the devices but as kids develop, they need even more supervision due to increased dangers of their persons related to the nature of the Internet. Any device with social media access needs to be regarded carefully by parents as new risks are introduced. Developmentally speaking, entry into the teen years (10-14 years) is generally a good match for the those devices that involve in social media usage. However, you need to make sure that your child stays away from Facebook until 13 (rules) AND until you are comfortable with him or her having an account.
- Educate Yourself: Whatever device is introduced to a child, parents need to have the technology skills to guide kids through usage. Kids can gain a mastery of technology so quickly and can easily pick up on the nuances that any new gadget has, far more easily that adults can in some cases, that adults are often tempted to let the kids become the experts. Yet, it is a parent’s responsibility to know exactly which key features are included in the gadgets kids are using. This takes planning and foresight; prepare and educate yourself BEFORE allowing your child to use technology you bring into the home. This will make integration easier and help better ensure safety.
- Check Settings: Make sure devices that offer Internet browsers and social media platforms are managed and settings at each site are set to the strictest levels. This will help marginalize some of the risks associated with online activity but not all. Using a pseudonym is a great additional way to help maintain privacy and anonymity of your child. Increasing access with developmental period is a good way to explore with children increased responsibility, privileges, and safety concerns associated with growing up.
- Limit Use: Just as a good parent limits candy consumption, limit use of digital devices. Research is suggesting that too much screen time can impair neural development. A good general rule of thumb for developing kids (up through boys=19-21; girls 17-19) is 2 hours a day. To stay abreast of research findings, consult with your doctor for maximum hours a day that is healthy for your child to use digital devices for each developmental stage at regular checkups.
- Set Rules: It is important to have a flexible but clearly defined ‘play book’ regarding technology usage in the home before it is introduced. Discuss with parenting partners what the rules are and the strategy for managing infractions then stick to the plan. The Key recommends using appropriate and related consequences for infractions and be consistent; for instance, if a 2 hour rule is broken then 2 hours are deducted from future time. If it happens again privileged are revoked for that device for a limited period of time and so forth. Other than time limits, rules might include full parental access to social media sites, only allowing usage at certain hours in the evening, or after homework has been completed. If you have teens of driving age, the most important rule to enforce is that under no circumstances should cell phones ever be used while driving. Remember, kids do what they see, so you have to be a good model for the rules you choose to enforce. Monitor usage: Net Nanny and PureSight PC let you monitor social media sites, block chats, filter content and much more. The AAP urges parents to talk with their children rather than spy on them. Children are, after all, entitled to (and benefit from) a zone of privacy so they can develop a sense of autonomy and independence (Miller, 2011). Interacting with kids around usage is more fun than lecturing and spying. Plus it keeps you in the loop by letting you get to know your child’s interests, skills and habits.
- Keep Digital Devices in a Central Location: It’s much easier to keep tabs on any online activity when the computer, game console, etc. is located in a high-traffic zone than if your child is using a computer in the privacy of her own room. Place the computer in a central location like your kitchen or family room so that everything is out in the open. If children have handhelds or their own devices, have an open door policy.
- Protect Their Reputation: Many kids don’t seem to understand the permanence of the online world. They also may experience boosts to invincibility or release from constrain due to anonymity. Cyber bullying is a real problem and if you have ever played video games online with unsupervised kids, you can hear all manner of devil-may-care speak that most parents would be appalled at were they privy to it. For teens, make sure to stress to your kids what a digital footprint is and the impact inappropriate messages or images could have if a future college administrator or employer were to stumble upon them. As stated in the AAP study,what goes online stays online.
- Talk About Online Dangers: You may feel like you’re scaring your kids when talking to them about the dangers of being online, but it’s better for them to be scared than to be unaware. Having an open line of communication is crucial the minute your kids start using the Internet more independently. You need to remind your children that these people are strangers and that the standard rules always.
- Monitor Online Posts: Encourage kids to run things by you so that you can discuss any posts they may make on digital devices. Talk about gravatar names and online identities, when it is safe or unsafe to reveal oneself. Make sure the content of a posted photo is completely innocuous and that no identifiable locales in the background are noticeable. DO NOT ‘check in’ or allow GPS access to ping your child’s locations.
- Be a Good Example: If you are tweeting and updating your Facebook page at a stop light and taking every opportunity to “just check something,” you’re setting a poor precedent for social media usage that your child will surely follow. Always remember to ask yourself if you’re setting a good example and demonstrating proper technology etiquette as well. They will remember what you do, not what you say!
- HAVE FUN!! There are many benefits to digital device usage for kids and parents such as education, cognitive enhancement, social connectivity, civic engagement, and entertainment so don’t forget to enjoy introducing these devices to your children.
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