When is the last time you looked at your phone?
Chances are, it was pretty recent. The last time your children looked at their phones? Probably even more recent.
In a world full of technology and the possibilities that go along with it—good and bad—how can families get a better grasp on how their children function with it, especially when it's a ubiquitous part of their world? Consider these better practices and guidelines to help families navigate the online world and create a digital parenting strategy that works.
Communicate and be honest.
It may seem an obvious point, yet it's worth noting: Stay involved with your child's online activity by asking what they like to do online—favorite games, apps and so on. This helps to create an open avenue of communication, without overstepping their privacy.
And be honest with them. If you feel the need to monitor their online activity, be upfront about it. Going behind their back would likely create friction and break trust. Reinforce that you're always someone they could come talk to.
What goes online, stays online.
It's vital to stress to children that their digital footprint is traceable. Though you can delete content from the Internet, it's never really "gone." Have a conversation about what's appropriate to share with friends and family online, versus what's not. Children may not be thinking about how what they say online may affect their world down the line.
We're human. We all make mistakes. Still, avoid having those mistakes digitally immortalized if possible—which goes for all of us.
Set the standard.
"Do as I say, not as I do."
While this works in some situations, technology usage shouldn't be one of them.
Be a role model when it comes to phone habits, whether putting your phones away at the dinner table, not texting and driving, or choosing to read a book rather than watch a television show or movie on your tablet in the evening. Similar to nutrition, healthy phone habits are created when led by example.
Though it may be tempting to let children occupy themselves with technology, limiting time and setting boundaries with phones and technology is vital. Whether it's setting up certain times of day for using digital devices or creating a framework around priorities that must be completed before "phone time," restrictions set everyone up for success—even if they initially seem harsh. Have children ask for permission to add and delete apps and utilize child-safe platforms such YouTube Kids to be sure the content they're viewing is age-appropriate.
Tricks of the Trade
Tips from West Michigan Woman readers:
"The iPad is basically reserved for car trips. They can watch PBS Kids shows, depending on how long the trip is. When we're at home, they have to use their imaginations to find other ways to amuse themselves." —Erin C.
"My 14-year-old is not allowed to have his phone in his room at night and must leave it plugged in downstairs on the main floor. His phone is locked down to pretty limited use and he has no social media accounts. He's getting older and has been very good with his usage and has shown us a good amount of responsibility, so we may lift restrictions a bit since he is starting high school—we'll go on a trial basis and see how he does." —Laura A.
"We don't allow television at all during the school week. It's too much of a distraction and a battle. Also, no phones at the dinner table and screen time is limited to certain number of hours per day in the summer." —Peggy D.
"We do reading time in exchange for electronic time—minute for minute—and find that it works very well!" —Kelly F.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for West Michigan Woman.