In a world where little boys see too much, and little girls post too much... is it even possible for young people to learn to text, Tweet, and Insta responsibly? If so, how can we teach them this...and model this?
Here are 5 steps parents can take to help their kids learn to be responsible with their mobile devices:
1. Give Them the Heads Up
Communicate your plan from the very beginning. When they're young and begging you for their first device, let them know why, and let them know when they get to make this decision on their own.
"When you first get your device, your use of it is going to be limited. But as you get older, you'll get more and more freedom with it. Our goal is that by your senior year of high school you will have full control."
I tried this with my daughters: Here's how it turned out. (Author/speaker Andy Stanley was interviewed last year and declared a similar approach.)
2. First Device at 12
For years experts have been recommending parents wait until their kids are age 12 to give them their own mobile devices. (Tablets, iTouch, laptops...especially devices that allow them access to the Internet and social media.) In fact, most experts recommend kids do not begin using social media until age 13.
I realize this is difficult when every other parent out there is giving their kids devices before they cut their first tooth. Our kids are sure to complain, "But Chris has his own iPad!"
This is where parents need to stop and ask themselves, "What is my role?" If you want to be the friend parent, or "peerant," who gives into their kid's every whim...then by all means, give em' a phone. If you see your role as the Sherpa who will guide them along the road to adolescence successfully to adulthood, then wait until they're 12. Even then you don't just hand it to them.
3. No Secrets
Create a climate of continual conversation about social media and screen entertainment. Walk with them as they set up their first online profiles, teach them online privacy settings and give them guidance on who to select as online friends.
In the past I recommended parents knew their kids' passwords so Mom and Dad could do precisely what their doctor recommended, monitoring exactly what websites and social media their kids were using. Sadly, demanding a password can create a parent-vs.-teen dynamic. Never a good thing. And frankly, I've found if today's kids want to sneak... they will sneak. It's much better to create an environment of open communication and "no secrets."
This takes time. Good parenting takes time. If you don't know anything about Instagram, then Google "Instagram safety tips" or "Instagram privacy settings" and see what people are recommending. Help your tween understand these settings, after all, your plan is to equip them to choose these kinds of settings on their own in just a couple years.
Engage in regular check-ins, reviewing their privacy settings and seeing who their online friends are. Don't be a parole officer, be a guide, looking to encourage and offer advice where needed.
But we also need to...
4. Limit Screentime
Your family doctor has been recommending this for years. And in a world where young people average almost 9 hours per day in entertainment media and technology, this is no easy task. Sit down and talk about some realistic guardrails together and decide what is fair.
5. Seek Out No-Tech Time
If you're a parent today then you know it can be difficult to get a teen to lift their eyes from their mobile device and actually dialogue. So my advice is simple. Seek out these natural settings where the phone is put away:
* Sitting in the hot tub
* Hunting, fishing, boating...
* Baking (sticky hands and phones don't mix)
The American Academy of Pediatrics just released their new list of media tips for parents, and several of the tips encourage parents to "create tech free zones" and "seek out face-to-face time." Experts are realizing how important it is for parents to seek out one-on-one time.
It's a little scary when you start reading the research about exactly how damaging a smartphone is becoming to a generation who barely knows life without it. How will they ever learn responsibility if we don't teach them?