Middle school is tough. The child, who used to love spending time with you, greets most family activities with an eye roll and a heavy sigh. Every time you see them their thumbs are either flying across the keyboard or they are staring at a screen.
This is the age when technology use can explode. With new apps and new devices, a tween's offline and online life can get out of balance. At this age, kids need to learn how to use technology in a responsible manner and in a way that enhances their life. Here are 6 tips from my book, Talking Digital, for middle school parents on how to help your tween live a healthy digital life.
During middle school, their textbooks, assignments, group projects all move online. As they hop about online, it is difficult to discern whether they are collaborating on a group geography project or have moved on to chatting about Pretty Little Liars. At this age, parents should try to rein it in by keeping laptops and devices out of their bedroom, creating screen free dinners, and setting a bedtime for all devices.
At this age, kids are hoping to join their first social network. Usually, everyone in school is on the same one. While these networks can be fantastic for keeping in touch with friends, they can also be a source of drama. At this stage, you want to keep a close eye on things. Be upfront about your concerns and make sure you have built in opportunities to coach them.
Create or Update your Family Phone Contract
It is important that everyone be on the same page. Sitting down together and drafting a contract is a great way to share values and expectations around appropriate online behavior. These agreements can range from a few simple rules to multi-page documents. Whatever their length, a contract outlines rules, expectations and consequences. Kids should know these contracts are not punitive but designed to keep them safe while teaching them to share smart online.
Ask before you Post
What we choose to post and what others share about us shape our digital reputations. Tweens should not post pictures of their friends or anyone else without asking. A great way to model this rule is for parents to ask their kids before posting a photo online. An important life skill in the digital age is the control and management of our digital reputations.
Utilize Privacy Settings
For tweens, sharing online can feel more like chatting with friends or writing in a diary rather than broadcasting worldwide. Although there are no privacy guarantees online, kids should still try to control their content by using privacy settings. When they decide to join a network, make sure they review and utilize the available privacy settings. When at all possible they should set their posts and profiles to private. Most tweens are looking to share with their friends and classmates, so their privacy settings should match their intent.