For kids, technology is a double-edged sword. Digital devices can be used to connect with family and complete homework, but they can also be dangerous. Distractions, scammers, and cyberbullies are serious threats.
Adults are susceptible to those things, too, but kids are at particular risk. Without guidance, they may wind up in unsafe situations or addicted to screens. And because kids don’t always tell their parents the whole story, it’s not always easy to tell if they’re using technology safely.
What’s a parent to do? Be vigilant and communicative. Start by asking yourself these questions.
What Tech Are They Using?
First things first: Assess what tech your kids have access to. Make a list of every device they touch throughout the week, from tablets to gaming consoles to laptop computers. The final tally may surprise you.
For a thorough audit, involve your kids. Ask them how, when, and how much they use each type of technology. Using the family computer to complete schoolwork shouldn’t raise any red flags. Watching movies on a tablet when they’re supposed to be asleep in bed might.
Use your list to evaluate what tech your kid does or doesn’t need. For example, if you’ve started thinking about purchasing your first kids phone, ask what gap it’s designed to fill. Maybe they’re going on a school trip for the first time this year, and they need a way to stay in touch. If you can’t identify a specific need, then skip it.
Do They Understand Internet Safety?
Whether it’s a smartphone, computer, or gaming console, internet-enabled devices come with a whole host of risks. Mitigate those risks by making sure your kids know how to use the Internet safely.
The internet is a great tool for kids to connect with their friends and explore their interests. With that said, it’s also full of inappropriate and, in some cases, illegal content.
Talk with your kids about what to do if they ever find themselves in a situation that makes them uncomfortable online. Ask them to report to you anyone who asks for their personal information, or wants to meet up in person.
If you decide your kid needs access to the internet but isn’t responsible enough to avoid certain sites, consider setting up blockers and activity trackers as guardrails. Make sure your kid knows these are for their safety, not simply because you want to snoop on their browsing habits.
Are They on Social Media?
As kids get older, parents may allow them to start creating profiles on social media sites. Most platforms require users to be 13 and up, though kids can simply claim they’re older to get around these restrictions.
Some platforms, like Facebook and TikTok, have cordoned off parts of their platforms as areas for younger kids. Both platforms also offer family pairing features, though these are no substitute for frequent monitoring.
If your kids don’t yet have social media profiles and aren’t asking for them, it’s best to hold off. Beware, however, that these platforms will pique their interest sooner or later. Decide as parents at what age and on what platforms you feel comfortable allowing your kids to use social media.
For older kids, when it seems like all their friends are on social media, the fear of missing out is real. Take an incremental approach: Start with one platform — perhaps one you also use, making it easier to monitor their behavior — and see how they handle it. Any cyberbullying or inappropriate posts should be grounds for loss of privileges.
What if your kids already have social media? Here, the cat is already out of the bag. Outright banning them from these sites is likely to result in backlash. The better approach is to talk through safe usage, set rules around when and how much they use social media, and impose consequences for bad behavior.
How Often Are They Using Tech?
As kids grow up, they’ll find themselves in more and more screen-required situations. Many jobs and college applications can only be filled out online. And when they get their driver’s license, having a phone in case of roadside emergencies is important for safety.
Still, simply because older kids need to use tech more frequently doesn’t mean it should be a free-for-all. Too much screen time can cause kids to experience serious health issues, including trouble sleeping and behavioral problems.
Observe how much your kids use technology at home, and ask them or their teacher how often they use tech for school. While you can’t control the time they spend on tech outside the home, you can factor it in when determining what the appropriate at-home limit should be.
Finally, make sure your kids see you, and any other adults in the home, following your own tech guidelines. Adults are just as susceptible to digital fatigue as kids. Hold every family member accountable, regardless of their age, but monitoring one another’s tech usage.
What Are Their Other Hobbies And Interests?
One of the best ways to encourage safe technology use is to help kids fill their time with more meaningful hobbies. If they love to play basketball and bicycle, for example, they’re probably getting frequent, meaningful interactions with other kids their age. It’s awfully tough to text and dribble at the same time.
The bottom line is, it’s about balance. Never using any technology ever is an unreasonable standard for any kid. On the other hand, using technology for twelve hours a day — even if it’s for research or to chat with grandma — is also unhealthy.
If you suspect your kid is overusing technology or using it to escape the real world, don’t overreact. Instead of banning them from ever touching a keyboard again, help them fill their time with more productive activities. The root of the issue may be simple boredom.
Each parent needs a plan for helping their kids use tech well. Use these questions to evaluate their safety and put together a plan. With even the most responsible kid, there will come a time when you’ll need it.
If you are interested in even more technology-related articles and information from us here at Bit Rebels, then we have a lot to choose from.