Upon hearing  “smart digital home”, what comes to mind? Perhaps it’s a home with internet filters and  parental controls.  

Although parental controls are often  a good short term solution, they don’t t teach our children to make“wise” choices for themselves.

How can we teach our children to be “wise” with digital media?

Here’s a three-step answer that works well with my clients:

  1. Communicate clear expectations.
  2. Be a referee.
  3. Motivate with memorable teaching moments.

Step #1 – Communicate Clear Expectations

The definition of “being wise” on dictionary.com is using the knowledge of what is right/wrong in conjunction with just judgment. Prior to  just judgement is understanding right from  wrong.

Begin by brainstorming (with your spouse or by yourself if a single parent) what is inappropriate on digital media. When finished, simplify the results to a few bullet points that are  posted near all the digital devices . Here is an example:

                             Our Guidelines for Digital Use

  • Faith, family, chores, homework and relationships are the priorities over digital entertainment.
  • We never share personal information ours or  others’ on social media.
  • Appropriate content ratings are: E rated video games, G rated music, and G/PG rated movies. When in doubt, ask this question, “Would watching this bring me closer to Jesus?” (or would Grandma approve of me watching this?)

If you are co-parenting, don’t worry if your digital standards are different from your ex’s. As long as our children learn to be “wise” with digital media in our home, there is a good possibility the habitual behavior will carry forward outside. If you have a faith, I strongly recommend (before each visit to the ex’s house) that you pray a blessing and request God’s wisdom for your child. I can attest from my own co-parenting experience that praying for blessings and wisdom provides noticeable results!

Step #2 – Be a Referee

With the expectations clearly communicated, the second step is to be a referee by calling the “infractions”. This step allows our children to practice being responsible and to practice being told: only once.This requires parental self-restraint from making reminders or threats. I know it’s difficult at first but it becomes second nature with practice. We can listen when our child challenges our call, but we must refuse to engage in discussion, because the call is just and not up for debate.

Step #3 – Motivate

In my experience, rewards generally fail to motivate, however, memorable teaching moments are excellent motivators! Let me illustrate with this example.

A posted rule is violated, and mom calls the infraction. Her immediate action is to remove the inappropriate content. That night, when her child is sleeping, she removes her child’s mobile phone and password protects the family computer. In the morning when her child asks, “Where’s my phone?” She answers, “It’s gone, for breaking the posted rule. To earn it back, you have to go 7 straight days without it, and without any complaints about it. So, if I hear a complaint on day 4, the 7 days will start over again.

Note: After the electronics are earned back, double the number of days for each future violation (14, 28, 56 etc.).

When consequences are memorable, our children are motivated to comply. It sounds harsh, but from a long-term perspective, it’s very loving. It’s also good preparation for the real world, because real world consequences are harsh. For example, the consequence for viewing pornography in many workplaces is immediate termination of employment.

If you are co-parenting and your child loses digital privileges at your house yet still has digital privileges at your ex’s house, don’t let the situation or what your child says about it bother you. This dynamic of different rules at different homes does stretch out the process, but the process still works as long as you stay the course.

What to Expect?

Expect testing of the rule and a few memorable consequences. Also, expect rebellion such as increased defiance over the initial few weeks (it gets worse before it gets better). However, when we stay the course, our children will rise to meet our expectations because they are highly motivated: they want their electronics back! Through these memorable experiences, our children are getting great practice at “being wise” with digital media.

Written by Steve Blakely

Steve Blakely

Steve is a certified parenting coach, author, speaker, and the founder of Parenting with Leadership. In the field of parenting professionals, Steve’s approach is unique: effective leadership implemented by a parent can resolve 80% of the common behavioral problems of children and teens, including disorders such as ADHD and ODD.