Your Kids and Screens – Part Two(B) How to Introduce Digital Technology to Your Child

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If you haven’t read Part Two (A) of this series, please go back and read it. It’s crucial information that lays a foundation for success when you let your kids have a tech device.

What is the best age to introduce tablets, computers and cell phones to your kids? If you’re thinking of getting a screen device such as a tablet for your child, make sure that he is over two years, and that you play with him in other ways than on the device. Get him outside for a walk, or to the park. Don’t let him spend hours on TV or with a digital device. Use a timer to limit the time he is on the tablet. It’s important to the development of his brain that he plays with toys, with siblings or friends, or with you, his parent. (See Part One of this series for the effects technology has on your child’s brain.)

How do you know if your children are ready for a cell phone? Ask yourself: are they mature enough? How are they doing in school? Do they get along with brothers and sisters? Do they have friends in their lives? Can you trust them to take responsibility at home such as looking after a pet or babysitting a younger sibling? You must have positive answers to these questions and listen to your inner voice to make this decision.

When you’ve decided to allow your child to have a phone, remember that this is your phone. You’re paying for it and are in control of it. You can keep the charger under your bed so that you are the one who charges it.

Rosalind Wiseman, author of books about and for teens, suggests that you and your kids go to shop for the phone together and have the salesperson explain it. They need to hear from another adult about the cost, and how they could be charged with real money for games, or be tricked into buying things online.

Janelle Burley Hofmann, author of iRules: What Every Tech-Healthy Family Needs to Know About Selfies, Sexting, Gaming and Growing Up, believes that we need to see tech devices as tools, not to be afraid of them or see them as “bad”. Instead, she thinks that you can parent the same way as you do in other areas, leading, modeling and teaching, even though you may not have been raised with digital devices, yourself. She developed an eighteen-point contract for her 13 year old son when he got his first phone. On her contract, she stipulated that it was her phone, because she paid for it, and that she was in charge of it, only loaning it to him; that if it broke he would be responsible for paying for repairs or a new phone; that he had to keep his “eyes up”, not always have his head down looking at his phone; that she needed to know the password; that the phone would be turned off at certain times of the day such as mealtimes, homework time, bedtime etc; and that he must never text anything that he wouldn’t say if a parent were in the room. Such a contract would be used with love, as well as firmness and consistency, as part of guidelines and parameters you set for your family.

As part of your contract, internet security should be front and center. Kids must not give identifying information to strangers, should not post their phone numbers and addresses. In fact, they should be told not to respond to anyone they don’t know and to tell you when anything worries them.

The US National Crime Prevention Council website on cyberbullying (http://www.ncpc.org/topics/cyberbullying/stop-cyberbulling/ has an excellent article, “Cell Phone Savvy”. It has agreements like the one mentioned, that can be printed out and used for setting up cell phone use. It also lists some important websites you can access for more information on phone use and family safety.

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Be sure to talk about texting, when to do it and when not to. If your child drives, be sure to insist that her phone is in a place she can’t reach while driving. Walking while texting has caused many accidents so should definitely be avoided.

Set firm guidelines for the use of tech devices in your home. Some parents will take phones and lock them up at bedtime because of the temptation for their teen to use them when he should be sleeping. No phones at mealtime, while doing homework or first thing in the morning when getting ready for school, are common family rules. These rules need to be discussed with your child before a device is purchased. He needs to agree to follow them and you may want him to sign an agreement such as the one mentioned above. Make sure that your tone is neutral, without dictatorial overtones. He may have some helpful input as well. Although you have the last word,this is a family agreement, and when kids have some say, they’re more likely to co-operate.

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Think carefully about your goal for your family. Hopefully you will aim for balance, so that, every day, there will be times the whole family will turn off their devices and relate to each other face-to-face. Plan tech-free days or weekends for the whole family so that face-to-face relationships flourish. Continue bedtime stories or talks to keep in touch with your child’s life at school and out of the house. You want to instill in your kids a consciousness of having balance in their lives between online and offline activity so that they can become self-regulating.

In Part Three, I’ll be discussing how to handle possible problems that can develop when your child has a digital device. Please stay tuned!

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