Today’s kids are digital natives, surrounded by technology since birth, and naturally able to master evolving online environments. With all the tools available to them, it’s no secret that most of them spend more time on screen than off. As the Christmas season approaches, students may be asking for a new device, game, or access to more content. The steps below can help you guide your child so they can be a safe digital citizen.
Did you know that the average middle school-aged child has approximately 9 hours of screen time each day? And these numbers only account for entertainment!
With students spending time online at school, at home, and with friends, it’s more important than ever to be aware of healthy internet usage.
While it’s not realistic for parents to hover over their teens the entire time they are online, there are ways to promote conscious engagement, smart decisions, and overall safety.
Consider the following tips for raising a tech-smart teen.
1. Be Intentional in Teaching
Children need more than parental controls and screen time limits; they need to develop their own philosophy on technology use that will carry them into adulthood. Parents should emphasize that all devices are meant to be used purposefully — not as time-fillers or numbing agents.
They should also introduce the idea of consumption vs. creation. You want the time your child spends online to help them become more active and engaged in the real world. So, while teens are often consumers of information during their time online, they should have a healthy balance of using what they’ve learned to develop their tangible skills offline.
This concept is discussed further in Andy Crouch’s book, “The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place,” an excellent read for families who want to up their intentionality. While it’s best to teach your child as soon as they have access to a device, it’s never too late to start.
2. Consider Your Handheld Technology Choices
Did you know that over half of children in the U.S. have their first phone by age 11? While smartphones seem to have taken over the market, remember that they are not the only option for your child.
There are numerous alternatives available that don’t give them access to everything on the internet and provide the “training wheels” they need to navigate owning a device. For example, Gab phones allow users to talk, text, and enjoy many helpful apps without the burdens of social media. Similarly, smartwatches such as TickTalk, provide location tracking and a way to communicate with parent-approved contacts, but no internet browser.
Whether it’s a smartphone, a tablet, or a watch, it’s a great idea to set up charging docks outside the bedroom, where teens can place their devices in the evening and retrieve them the next day.
3. Discuss Privacy Regularly
It can be challenging for children to understand just how important privacy is, and how quickly it is breached online. Make sure your child knows to:
- Only share passwords with parents and change your password if you think someone else knows it.
- Set all social media and networking accounts to private, and do not approve any followers that you do not know well.
- Contact you before downloading anything or making any purchases online.
- Remember that anything posted online is permanent and being a good digital citizen matters. The decisions they make today can and will affect them in the future.
4. Do Your Research on Gaming and Social Media Platforms
Most games and social media apps have age restrictions/recommendations. Parents: heed these guidelines. They are there for a reason and intended to protect young children from communities that are not safe for them.
Furthermore, just because your child does fit within an app’s recommended age range does not mean it will be right for your family. Download it for yourself and look around, talk with other trusted parents, and conduct your own research before allowing your child to jump in headfirst.
Keep the conversation open with your child too, and consider these talking points to get them thinking about risks vs. benefits:
- Who are some of your favorite people/accounts to follow on social media? Why?
- How do you usually feel after spending time online or on social media apps?
- If you see bullying or hurtful content happening online, what would you do next?
- How can you tell if an account is authentic, or if someone really is who they say they are?
- What “red flags” do you think colleges and employers look for on people’s social media accounts?
- What would your next steps be if you were contacted by a stranger on social media?
- How do you manage your time online? Is there anything I can do to help you find a balance that feels good for you?
5. Have a Plan in Place
The reality is that every child will encounter something that makes them uncomfortable online sooner or later. Whether it’s a phishing scam or an inappropriate photo, it’s important to have an open-door policy so your child can process what they’ve seen (or any missteps they’ve made) with you. Shaming your child or threatening to take away their devices will not be productive.
Pre-teens want to feel heard, validated, and believe it or not — they do want your wise counsel. Talking about possible red flags they might encounter online beforehand will prepare your child to alert you as needed.
Posted December 3, 2021
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