Technology. A word that makes some swoon and others want to throw it out the window. As a parent of three teens, I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. Technology has brought our family together (weekly pizza movie nights, group family texts, and “I don’t know the answer so let’s look it up”), and it’s also caused much frustration (Can I play online? I just need to finish this round; Just one more video, please?).
We’ve set down rules, created reward systems, tested monitoring software, and recently set up a scheduled time to use electronics (which completely backfired when our son was working on college apps on our computer and had to stop when the internet connection turned off after so many hours).
The amount of time needed to keep up-to-date and monitor everything can be overwhelming and exhausting, and constant app updates make everything you set in place a moving target. How are we supposed to know which way would benefit our children more?
Some people have made a career out of playing video games or developing new ones. Others are generating income on YouTube or developing the next up-and-coming apps. But then you hear the horror stories – children who were duped by others they met online or got hooked on certain websites. Studies have shown too much violence is altering the way the brain develops, and experts claim limiting screen time is of utmost importance. It’s all so confusing.
So, how do we do this and do it well? I’ve found there isn’t an all-for-one answer. Every family has different rules, which adds to the challenge. The most important? Talk with your kids. Have ongoing conversations with them about the internet. This is not a one-and-done type of discussion. The key word is “ongoing” – as in daily and weekly. And as your children grow older, the conversations should grow older, too.
There are other rules you can put in place to protect and teach your kids how to be safe online:
No phones or computers allowed in bedrooms.
Schoolwork is completed on the family computer located in an open area of the house where everyone can see what’s on the screen. Accountability is key and will help them develop good habits as they grow older.
Teach them how to search a topic and choose their words wisely. Type the search terms in the search bar, NOT the website address bar itself. This allows you to see the options available without automatically going to a website.
Set a computer time limit and teach them early on to keep track themselves. Use a timer and set consequences if they don’t stop on their own.
Discuss links and teach them to not automatically click on a link or photo within a website unless they know where the link goes. Discuss viruses as well as inappropriate websites that use similar names to trick you. Also discuss digital ads and how some look like entertainment but they’re really to purchase something.
Teach them to never give out personal information without your consent. Keep a list of approved websites and check their e-mail and search history often.
Now, more than ever, we have access to amazing content online, but our kids need to be taught how to navigate it safely. Develop a set of rules together, including the ones above, that everyone can agree to and follow and then have them sign a contract. You can search “teen computer contract” online and find several options to use. It’s never too late to teach your kids how to be safe online.
Denise Colby is a freelance writer