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Tech tips for the new year

Set the guidelines for gaming. Photo: vadimguzhva via

It is almost the new year and if your house is like mine, Santa has come and gone but not without leaving a few new devices under the tree.

The start of the new year is typically when we set resolutions of things we want to improve or work on. This is the perfect time to start fresh and establish rules and boundaries around technology or reevaluate the ones you already have. Sometimes we forget with a new device comes a lot of freedom and responsibility, but we need to set up our children for success.

The best way to do this is by establishing some parameters, and not just for them but with them. So whether they received a cell phone, new gaming console, or an iPad, here are some tech tips for the new year:


We would never give our children cars without teaching them how to drive. Technology is very much the same — before our children are given these all-powerful, super expensive devices, they need a road map from us as the parents about what they can do, for how long, and appropriate behavior as it relates to the device. There is no better time for this than either before or right after they get the device. It is much harder to reign in behavior than it is to establish limits or boundaries ahead of time.

In our house, after much debate, we finally relented and bought our 10-year-old an Xbox gaming console. Before the box was even opened, we had a conversation with him to set some guidelines. First, we asked him to come up with some he thought were fair and then we shared ours. Together we came to agreement on such things as no gaming during the week, no gaming unless there has been outside time or physical activity, and no connecting with strangers while playing.


In so many families, ours included, most of the conflict or push-back is around devices and technology. Everyone always wants a little more screen time. I don’t think there is a magic formula to make this completely disappear, but I do know a sure way to reduce the tension is to have regular family meetings. This can be a great time to work together to develop some rules everyone can agree on. Common Sense Media has a family contract on their website, which is a perfect place to start. You can tailor it so the agreement is realistic and makes sense for your family. Once everyone agrees, you can all sign and agree to abide by it, and then place it in a visible place as a reminder to everyone. No matter what age your children, if they feel they have a voice and are a part of the process, there is a lot more buy-in — with the understanding that some points will be nonnegotiable.


Because so many devices come with Internet access or the ability to chat or message with strangers, it is of the utmost importance that before using the technology our children understand what it means to be safe online. This includes both their physical and emotional safety. These conversations can happen from a very young age in an age-appropriate way and revolve around parental controls, privacy settings, and blocking content. As your child gets older and access increases, the conversations will shift.

In terms of physical safety, your child should know not to share passwords with anyone besides parents, not to share pictures or personal information with strangers, and to turn off geo locators on any apps they are using. Emotional safety is a bit different but equally as important. This can relate to comments they post, reminding them that everything can be screen shotted and shared, and if something does go wrong, knowing whom they can turn to for help.

Every child should know and feel comfortable coming to a parent, teacher, or another close adult if something seen online doesn’t feel right.

The best gift we can give our kids doesn’t come with an on/off button but rather our involvement and awareness of their digital world. This doesn’t mean just setting the rules and guidelines but engaging in their world, so maybe in the new year ask your child to teach you how to play a favorite video game or show you the videos he or she is interested in on YouTube. Doing this and following these tech tips may make for a more peaceful home in the new year.

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. She was formerly a television news producer in Washington, D.C., and in San Francisco.