As a parent and educator, I know that parenting in an ever connected world can be a constant battle with our children. As an educator I speak on finding balance and I teach digital citizenship skills on a regular basis, starting as young as kindergarten. Honestly I start most lessons with elementary students this way: "Do you ever try to talk to your parent and they don't listen because they are busy doing something on their phone?" 94% will shake their head yes with about 89% adamantly wanting to add their two cents. Learning how to balance plugged and unplugged time is a beast, even for adults. As an educator, I read 3 books every year to kindergarten and first graders. These books are When Charlie McButton Lost Power by Suzanne Collins and Mike Lester, Doug Unplugged by Dan Yaccarino and Goodnight iPad by Ann Droyd. I think it's important to start talking to students about the why of unplugging from technology at a young age when they still think adults know some things!
For my older elementary students I actually have them participate in a little multitasking lesson that can be found here:
But the truth of the matter is, it's usually families that feel the brunt of too much technology usage because home time is less structured than school time and children want to use their free time to connect with friends on social media, play online games, or just mindlessly surf, shop, and chase rabbits for hours on end with their technology. So the question is "how do parents create boundaries at home for their children?" The first time I was asked about this as an educator I was a little shocked. It felt like someone was asking me how to parent their child. I see technology as just one of the things in life that I have had to place boundaries for my two girls. I also can tell you that no two children are the same, different genders often need to be monitored differently in families, and that the choices I make regarding technology in my family may not be what works best for your family.
That all being said, I do believe there are options available to families to make the process a bit easier. Here is my list of things I share with parents as they try to navigate what is best for their own families:
- www.commonsensemedia.org While this has great resources for students and teachers, it also gives some morally sound help to parents in regards to movies, apps, websites, etc.
- www.meetcircle.com "Manage all of your home’s connected devices. With Circle, parents can filter content, limit screen time and set a bedtime for every device in the home." (https://meetcircle.com/circle/). While I haven't used Circle myself, I know families that have and the less confrontations about technology they are having makes them sing the praises of this device. While it only controls devices while on your wifi network, at a price tag of $99 it appears to be a family game changer for some people.
- Parental controls on devices or Google accounts. Whether it be a Chromebook or an iPad there are parental controls on the device that can be found in settings to tighten up your child's access to things you deem inappropriate. Google your device and parental controls and learn more about how to create a safer browsing experience for your children.
- The Tech Wise Family by Andy Crouch. Every family is different but Andy Crouch shares the goals his family set for technology usage. While I read part of the book and thought some things wouldn't work for my own family, this book can be used as a catalyst to start discussions regarding your own family's philosophy on technology usage.
- Shared account information or following your child on social media. First, create a culture of following set rules regarding social media usage. Almost all social media platforms require the person signing up to verify that they are at least 13 years of age. There is a reason for this...maturity levels. If you have allowed your child to have social media accounts, ask yourself about their maturity level- 13 isn't always a magic number. If your child is begging but you have reservations, create an account with them that you have access to as well. At my house, the rule was that I knew what social media platforms my children were using. I would friend them or follow them for accountability. But my favorite accountability moment ever was when my then 16 year old daughter walked in the room and said, "you know what will make you use Instagram correctly? When your grandmother starts following you!" Go Mom! I hear many parents say they don't want to have social media accounts, my guess is you also don't want to drop your child off at 8 a.m. sports practices on Saturdays but it's part of parenting. Let them know you are parenting them in all aspects of their life.
- Check with your phone provider to see if there are parental controls. Because phones use cellular networking, all the wifi filtering in the world will not block things for your child. I know Verizon has these options for families.
- Last but surely not least, create a culture of using technology in open areas of your home and put technology to bed at night. Most issues of inappropriate usage whether it be bullying, pornography, or just sleep deprivation happens often because children have their devices in their rooms at night where there is no accountability. Invest in an old fashion alarm clock for your children (because this will be their excuse why they should keep the device in their room) and plug in devices in a family area at night. If children start this at a young age, it will just be the expectation forward. It's harder to manage as children get older.
The bottom line is each family is different and each user of technology bring different views and struggles into the mix. What might be a addiction to one person will have no real pull to others. What might seem like a glorious "rule" and a no-brainer for you might change as situations change. For instance, at age 11 my youngest child was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, from that point on her phone (which she didn't have before the diagnosis) stayed in her room at night in case of a medical emergency. As we all know, parenting is messy as it is, add technology to the mix and it might feel like a losing battle much of the time. Hear me say that I see a whole lot of good usage of technology by students daily. I see our digital citizens making wise choices and reaching the world in positive ways through the use of technology.
I think the main thing I would leave you with is this...most of the time the technology in the hands of our children belong to the parents. Remember that. Oftentimes because students are the sole user of a device they get the "this is mine and you can't touch it" mentality. While technology is the main way students communicate with each other informally, you have the ability to adjust that usage as their parents. I believe in restorative practice. There is nothing wrong with forcing your child on a technology fasting for a while. It might lead them to better balance later. Just leave the communication lines open so they know what your concerns are and why. While schools are teaching digital citizenship and about digital footprints, parents have the bigger impact and ability to speak into non-educational use of technology. Don't let that opportunity slip by.