Caring For Our Kids

Tips for managing your technology

Photo: Leonid Mamchenkov

If your house is like ours, you are constantly bombarded with requests for screen time. Ours are mostly for mobile devices like an iPhone or iPad, but our kids are not picky, and will take time on any screen they can get. With summer quickly coming to a close and the start of another school year just weeks away, it’s time to start thinking about new routines, schedules and getting back in the swing of things after vacation. Just as we establish rules or guidelines for our children about schoolwork, chores and healthful eating, the same is necessary for technology. Here are a few tips to help you navigate the sometimes overwhelming world of media.

Keep up: With all the new technology at our children’s fingertips, it is imperative that we as parents keep up, and I would even venture to say, stay ahead. This means we need to understand how the technology works, ways to keep our kids safe, and monitor what they are doing. This sounds like an easy proposition, but I am not afraid to admit that I have to ask my five-year-old how to change the background picture on my phone. For older children, understanding social media and the new language of texts can be imperative because that is the new wave of communication for this age group. I know one parent that I thought gave her child great advice: If you wouldn’t want me to see the message, you shouldn’t be writing it. It takes a bit of research but the tools are out there, so as parents we can use privacy settings and set up parental controls on all media devices. Common Sense Media (www.commonsensemedia.org) is a great resource for parents and educators on this front.

Set limits: There are two kinds of limits — time limits and content limits. It’s easy to see how screen time can take over and suck you in. It happens to all of us; before we realize it, we have spent 45 minutes checking Facebook, texting with a friend, or searching for a new pair of shoes. The specific amount of time is a personal choice for each family, and every household will set different rules on time limits. The most important thing is that the limits be age appropriate. In our house this summer, we instituted 30 minutes a day — 15 minutes after camp and 15 minutes before bed. For content, our kids are not able to download anything on their own, and I have to review and play any app before they can use it. It is a little easier to justify your children zoning out if you know they are working on math facts or playing a strategy game.

Set examples: This became a priority for me when I stopped to look at my own behavior. I was so frustrated that whenever my children had some down time, they wanted my phone to play a game; then I realized every time I have a few seconds to spare, I reach for my phone. Setting examples are personal choices of what you want to model for your children, but remember our children watch us more than we think, so practice what you preach. If we don’t want them showing up at the dinner table with an iPad or texting while driving, we shouldn’t be doing those things either.

We can’t deny that technology has much to offer from an educational standpoint. It’s being integrated more in schools, and there is almost no way to avoid it. That said, my final advice is to embrace all that it has to offer, but don’t forget there is still something special about sitting around a board game or picking up an actual book and flipping the pages.

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. She was formerly a television producer in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. E-mail: liz@marinatimes.com