The start of a new year is a great time to check in on your family’s media rules and reset or readjust if needed — especially if Santa left a few new devices under the tree. New devices are exciting and can bring a newfound sense of independence but also a lot of responsibility, so we need to make sure our children are set up for success and capable of handling that independence and responsibility. We can do this by establishing some parameters and not just for them but with them. So, whether they received a cell phone, gaming console or an iPad, here are some tech tips to kick off the new year:
In the same way that we wouldn’t give our child an instrument and tell them to play or keys to a car and tell them to drive, we also shouldn’t give our children a device without some instructions. These all-powerful, super expensive devices need a road map from us as the parents about what they can do, for how long, and appropriate behavior as it relates to how they use the device. This is easy to do 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 up some guidelines. First, we asked him to come up with some guidelines he thought were fair and then we shared ours and came to an agreement that included 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 these days is around screen time. Everyone always wants a little more. I don’t have 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 come up with some rules that 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 the age of your children, if they feel they have a voice and are a part of the process there is a lot more buy-in. Of course, there will be some expectations that are nonnegotiable.
It is almost impossible to find a device that doesn’t connect to the Internet or have some kind of chat or message function. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that before using the technology, 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 children get older and their access increases, the conversations will shift. In terms of physical safety, your children 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 use. Emotional safety is a bit different but equally as important. All children should know and feel comfortable coming to a parent, teacher, or other close adult if they see something online that doesn’t feel right.
Most of us didn’t grow up with all this technology; however, as parents we need to try to understand what an integral role it plays today in our children’s lives. The best gift we can give them is our involvement and awareness of their digital world. This doesn’t mean just setting the rules and guidelines but actually engaging in their world. Ask your child to teach you how to play their favorite video game or make a TikTok with your teen. These tips all take time and effort but trust me, it will make for a more peaceful home in the new year.
Liz Farrell is the mother of three children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive conversations around social media and technology. Email: [email protected]