Homes today are filled with electronic technology. From TVs to computers to phones, most of that tech is appealing to children. Which isn’t always a good thing. After a day spent telling your kid to put down the phone, monitoring their tech use can feel like a full time job. Especially if you spend that time also worrying about whether your kid is safe online.
It is stressful to think about all the potential problems with kids using tech. However, there are things you can do to make sure they avoid most of those problems. It’s possible for kids to use tech in healthy, and even beneficial, ways. To ensure they get only the best out of tech, you’ll need to have a discussion about healthy technology use. Below are some tips to help you navigate the conversation.
1. Identify the Tech Your Kid Uses
Before you start the discussion, identify tech in the home you let your kid use. Also, make a list of the devices you’ll consider buying and letting them use in the future. Smart TVs are growing in popularity, and streaming services are fairly common. Maybe they have an Xbox or play computer games. They may also have a kids phone to keep in touch throughout the day.
Knowing what they use, and what tech they’ll want to use in the future, can help guide the conversation. You’ll have a better sense of where to start the discussion, and which topics to highlight. For example, online gaming is notorious for online bullying and harassment. If your child likes to play online, you’ll want to make that topic a big part of the discussion.
2. Set Boundaries for Tech Use
You’ll need to know more than which devices your kid uses. You’ll also need to know how that tech uses the internet and data. For example, you can use parental controls on computers to block unsafe or adult sites. Kids phones have features to keep kids off the internet, or to limit their contacts to people you approve of.
Developing time limits for tech use is a great way to start setting boundaries. While a blanket 30 minute rule for all devices might sound nice, it doesn’t account for recent education trends. You may want to set time limits for computer entertainment, rather than schoolwork. That way, your child will know they have plenty of time for schoolwork, and still get to play games later.
You should also decide on limits that protect family time and down time. For example, if you have family dinners together, leave all the electronics in the other room. Adapt the same rule for bedtime.
Many kids will text long after their parents tell them to go to bed. Late night screen time may contribute to poor sleep and depression. To prevent this, put all the tech in the family room overnight.
3. Have the Talk
When you buy a new piece of technology for your kid, dedicate time to talk about it. Sit down together after dinner, and share your thoughts on the new computer, tablet, or phone. This is a great time to share the excitement and also go over responsible behavior and safety rules. Here are a few specific things to cover:
Discuss the Benefits
You may find it helpful to talk about the benefits of the tech with your child. They’ll be more excited about the gadget, and more willing to listen after. Then you can bring up some challenges people have with technology—from safety issues to missing out on in-person fun. It’s an excellent setup to discuss what rules will help the family create safe boundaries for tech use.
Be Open to Your Child’s Opinion
You likely already know what rules you want in place. Those boundaries you came up with, for starters, are important to put on the rule list. However, don’t forget to ask your kid what rules they want to include. Your children may surprise you with some of the things they will think of.
If your child contributes to the rules, they’ll be more likely to agree to them. It will also make them feel more involved, and develop a sense of responsibility.
Share Your Own Experiences
The conversation is also likely to go better if you’re willing to share some of your struggles with technology. Acknowledge how much you want to check your phone for messages, even when working. Or tell them about a time you got sucked down an internet rabbit hole and missed out on something fun. This shows your kid that you understand the struggle, while still setting the example you want them to follow.
Set Up the Tech Together
If your child is receiving a new device, like their first phone, have it with you during the discussion. Show them how to use features like the key lock and alarm. Help your kid set important phone numbers into their speed dial list. Then show them how to access those numbers.
Making the tech talk a positive one creates a great bonding opportunity for your family. A good, constructive conversation will also teach them tech habits for their future.
4. Write Down the Rules
After talking, write down the rules and post them somewhere everyone can see them. A fridge door works great for this. When you see your child breaking a rule, ask them about it and have them check the door. Seeing the rules may also be a helpful reminder for you if you want to change your own habits.
You’ll also want to set up consequences for breaking the rules. Avoid being too harsh. Your child will find the rules arbitrary if the punishment is much worse than the mistake. For minor errors, maybe you take away game privileges that night. But more significant infractions may justify grounding them from streaming for a week.
Connect tech misuse with natural consequences, too. Maybe they didn’t clean their room because they were playing on the computer. The result is that they lose planned computer time to clean their room.
5. Continue the Conversation
Keep the discussion going. Teaching kids good habits and how to use technology safely isn’t a one-time discussion. Make talking about tech habits part of your everyday conversations. After all, they might be using their devices everyday, so why not discuss them everyday?
Those chats are also opportunities for you to find out if problems are developing, and to make changes. If your child is moody now that they’re on their phone more, you might want to revisit the rules. Continuous check-ins allow you to come up with a tech plan that’s catered to your child’s needs.
You’ll also be able to expand privileges as the discussions show you how responsible your child is with their tech. That positive reinforcement will help cement the good behaviors you want them to learn.
Introducing new technology to your kids takes some planning. The tips above can make it easier for you to formulate that plan, and teach your kids healthy tech habits. They may not love every minute of the conversation, but it’s an important component of their development. And by having healthy, open discussions, you’ll be able to help them through challenges of tech ownership that everyone faces.