It’s always a bit scary for me to be the first at something. So when I think about the fact that we are the first generation of parents raising kids in a digital, connected, the-internet-is-everywhere world, I get a bit nervous. But, as with anything, it does no good to wallow in our fears; so I’ve made up my mind to dive straight in and learn all I can about our ever-changing online world. I am constantly reading about new apps and privacy settings. I look for help in making technology decisions, and how that impacts our family.
When our children were little, we assessed how much access they would have to the digital world: very little. We wanted our munchkins to experience the sort of childhood we did, with tons of outside play, adventure, and very little “screen time.” This was easy when they were small because they only knew what we exposed them to. They had no desire to sit in front of a boring old computer when there was sunshine and dirt outside.
Of course, now that they’re teenagers, the computer is not boring and dirt holds little appeal. Things have changed, and we are constantly reevaluating. We ask ourselves a lot of questions. We give ourselves time to find the answers. We extend grace when we get it wrong and have to change our minds.
1. We Ask These 10 Questions
- How much daily screen time? (remember, school screens can consume two hours a day!)
- What online activities are approved? Google searches? Gaming? Youtube? Social Media? Chat enabled sites? Movies and TV? Music videos?
- Are locations enabled or disabled?
- What websites should they have access to?
- Do we have open internet or do we enable parental controls?
- What happens when they come across inappropriate web content?
- Are they allowed personal devices? Where can they use them?
- Where are devices at night?
- What happens if we find search history that we aren’t happy about?
- What happens with a cleared search history?
Each of these questions helps clarify our family values, and helps create a plan to navigate this digital age. Our questions enable intentional answers that we implement over time, and we constantly tweak our plan to suit our current situation.
“Is this up for debate?” This question comes out of our teens’ mouths, often. When it does, we allow them to voice why they think it should be up for debate. Then, we take the time to reevaluate, again. It’s a learning process for all of us — they learn to make decisions, follow due process, and realize that their opinion matters, because it does.
2. Communication is the Priority
We know the world is changing quickly, especially the online world. We get that kids don’t really watch cartoons anymore, but rather follow their favourite YouTube channel. We also know that they will search and find something that they were NOT looking for. We teach our children this:
- Tell us when this happens.
- Tell us what you saw.
- Identify what you searched.
We don’t overreact — haven’t we all had a search gone wrong? Our priority for teens and technology is open communication. They know that together we continue to learn, discuss, and safeguard their lives.
3. Decide on the Time Allotted
Early on, we decided it was easier to start with less screen time and expand, rather than to give more and reign it in. So in our family when the kids were young, we had zero screen time during the week, leaving screens as a weekend treat. Now that they’re teens, we don’t have a set time block. We realize that homework often requires computer time. As for “personal screen time,” we set limits (this includes TV, internet, gaming, basically anything with a screen!), and don’t even bother asking if you haven’t been outside, or completed your homework and chores!
4. Keep Tabs
We want to know what our children are doing online. Therefore, technology is only available in public areas of our home. No iPads in bedrooms, no computer time behind closed doors. Furthermore, if I walk up beside you and you instantly close what you’re doing, I will assume that you’re up to no good. You will be disciplined as such.
5. Make a Contract
Recently, we began allowing our boys to purchase devices with money they saved. With each purchase, we require a renewed commitment to our family contract. One of our favourite points in our contract is random checks on their devices. Yes, whenever we choose: no complaints. When we hear a complaint, they lose the device (yes, the one they paid for). Also, if we ever find their history cleared, they are disciplined as though we found something opposing our family contract. You know, the one they committed to when purchasing said device.
6. Have Consequences
We also recognize that our boys are human. They won’t get it right all the time. Each has his own set of struggles, just like we do. We don’t expect them to be perfect. However, when they stray from our parameters for technology, we take privileges away. We talk about it. We remind them of our family values. When we feel they’re ready, we set them back on a path, hopefully better equipped to make a wise decision next time.