These days, there’s no denying that we live in a very high-tech world. Our children spend hours every day accessing the internet from smartphones, tablets, and home computers. It’s important to bring the family together to create and understand the rules around using devices and accessing the internet.
Today children are being given devices at earlier and earlier ages, as parents feel the pressure to stay connected throughout the day with their children. Also, many of their child’s friends have smartphones and tablets, and chances are good that at least one friend has his or her own laptop computer. If you choose to give your child a piece of technology, whether it’s a smartphone, a tablet, or a computer, consider telling him or her that you own that equipment and that you are loaning it to him or her in good faith. You can also consider requiring a technology contract in exchange for providing the device in the first place.
Setting the Ground Rules
The most important thing about giving your child a tool to access the internet is a discussion around the opportunities and dangers that exist online. While the internet offers amazing possibilities for learning and connecting, keeping your child safe online is a crucial component to allowing access. Here are a few points to consider.
●Depending on your child’s age, you can set their passwords for all accounts he or she will access, and/or require your child to not change their passwords without your knowledge.
●It’s very important that your child understands that passwords are not to be given out to anyone under any circumstances. A newer development with the Snapchat platform are “Streaks”, in which a user posts consecutively daily. Some users then give their passwords out to friends to keep their streak going. Remind your children that giving out their passwords is not a safe online practice and is not allowed, even to friends to keep up streaks.
●While it’s ideal to allow your child a level of privacy with their online communications, if you feel that your trust has been violated, as a parent you reserve the right to look through the phone, tablet, or computer at any point to see whom your child is talking to and monitor the sites he or she visits. Consider using a proactive monitoring tool like Bark to preserve your time and sanity, while also providing an extra level of safety and privacy for your child.
●Reiterate to your child that they cannot use Skype, Facetime, or other video technologies to talk to strangers, and that they are not allowed to provide any personal information on any forum or website without your permission.
●It is important for teens that have their driver’s license to understand that texting and talking on the phone is not allowed when driving. In addition to being unsafe, using a device while driving is illegal in nearly all states.
●If at any time your child disobeys the rules you set for the technology, the consequences can include the loss of privileges associated with their device, or possibly even losing access to the device for a set time period. Each family will have their own ways of dealing with breaking the rules, but the most important aspect is that there are rules and consequences around having a device and they have been clearly set forth.
●Remind your child that you’re a team and that you’re in this together. Mistakes will happen, but you’re there to discuss it with them and learn together.
Along with setting rules that are designed to keep your child safe, it is also important to help your child understand that there is basic etiquette for using the device. For example, consider setting rules about turning the device off in certain public places like restaurants or at the movies.
Consider establishing family rules in which the whole family puts their devices away while having dinner, and/or in which everyone charges their devices in the kitchen while sleeping. It’s also helpful to reinforce good online social behavior with your child, such as not using the device to lie, fool, or hurt others. Remind them to be a good friend first and not promote hurtful messaging by others.
A technology contract can be a great way to help ensure that the entire family is aware of what is expected with using devices and accessing the internet. One option is the Smart Talk tool provided by LifeLock and the National PTA. It allows your family to build a technology contract together and print it out for displaying in your home.
Regardless of what approach you choose as a family, the most important thing is to set and enforce clear rules, and maintain an open dialog about online safety as a family.