When I was growing up, getting wired meant having one too many cups of coffee. Now, it means living in a rapidly changing world of information, communication, commerce, and entertainment that exists in cyberspace. The pace of change is so fast that even the term “wired” is dated; almost everything now is connected and accessed wirelessly.
With the development of both the internet and the matching hardware technology, it is so damn easy to find/view/read/buy anything we want. As a fan of consumer technology, this period is thrilling. As a parent (which I am to three great kids aged 13, 10, and 8), this scares me because accessibility to things I consider negative is also amplified. In my youth (warning: #throwback alert), our most advanced electronic gadget was our television. Like most middle-class families, we had a room that revolved around watching TV. This is where our other “gadgets” were found: the Sony betamax, Aiwa music component and turntable, and Odyssey console game. My folks managed our time like tyrants and the appliances were easy to switch off. All they had to do was to literally unplug them to make us stop. These days, everything is portable and the internet is cheap. Viewing shows, listening to music, playing games, buying stuff, and doing research can be done on the sly. My kids do not know a world without internet. They are quick learners and are adept at managing “screens.” Without proper guidance, our children will be bombarded with so much and they might not be able to cope. They may become addicted to their screens and games, which studies have shown could impair their social skills. Worse, they may form warped values and destructive habits. To help avoid that, here are a few tips to help raise more tech-responsible children. Perhaps, some of us adults could learn a thing or two as well.
o1 Start with values.
Before your child can even touch a gadget, figure out what you want for them, and how you want them to grow and develop. This allows a framework or a guide that you and your family can use when setting priorities and rules.
For example, in our family, we put a high premium on learning, honesty, and family time. In practical terms, this means putting schoolwork first over any other activity during weekdays. On weekends, time with family is blocked off.
The virtue of honesty is important when managing activities online. Whenever possible, continually reinforce these ideas and values.
A few years ago, instead of making resolutions for the new year, I gathered my wife and the kids together, and discussed and agreed on our vision for the family. From the vision, we outlined priorities and activities that would lead us to where we want to be. We revisit and update these regularly (around twice every year) and use it when making decisions (or arguing) on what we think are positive or destructive habits. Having this as a foundation will help you manage activities, online or otherwise. The best thing is that there is buy-in and participation from everyone.
02 Equip yourself.
Unlike our kids who were born in the age of internet, we, the parents, have to keep up and stay on our toes.
Familiarize yourself with gadget features, websites, and applications. Are you on Facebook? Do you have a Tumblr account? Do you know what Snapchat is? Will you be happy if you found out your daughter is on Tinder? You’ll never know unless you have an idea of what these sites and applications are for and how they are being used (and abused).
Brush up on the slang and the acronyms. Pop quiz: how many of these do you know (and which of these do your kids use frequently)? Facepalm, troll, LOL, WTF, FML, BRB, ILY, J/K, DILLIGAS, OMG, TMI, TYVM, STBY, WYWH, NP, AMA, ELI5, IDGAF, IMHO, MIRL, NSFW, PAW, TBT, TL;DR.
Lastly, learn proper hashtag usage. It will spell the difference between being considered witty and being tagged as annoying—by your own kids.
03 Start early.
By “starting early,” I don’t mean teaching your two-year-old how to use a tablet or smartphone. Children this young should not use gadgets. But the temptation to allow them unrestricted usage is huge: it looks cute and cool for a toddler to operate these gadgets and more importantly, to a tired and frazzled parent, it keeps them busy and quiet.
A lot of parents think they are teaching their kids to be tech-savvy by enabling them with early gadget use. But, honestly, technology these days is so simple and intuitive that a monkey can swipe left and right to move pages on a tablet. Also, studies have shown many negative effects by getting very young children hooked on gadgets.
By starting early, I mean getting your kids used to a fixed schedule for playing with gadgets (and watching TV).
Ours is set in writing and signed by all. For example, on weekdays, gadget use is not allowed. TV time is allowed, but only restricted to one hour. At four o’clock every day, everything is dropped to prioritize homework. No homework for the day? Study the lessons or read a book. On weekends and holidays, we allow gadget use, but not at the dinner table.
Having a strong foundation on values (see no. 1) helps in minimizing whining and debates on schedules. In our case, we started with our eldest daughter and set a fixed schedule when she was still in pre-school, which we reinforced until he was around the third grade. By this time, she had already developed strong study habits and has learned using her gadgets thoughtfully. Her younger brothers picked up on this and are trying to emulate her habits.
Also, as a parent, don’t forget to set a good example by limiting your own gadget use at home.
04 Manage the hardware.
Please don’t give a child their own device. Rather, position their use as a privilege and benefit for being good and performing chores. Make it clear that you own the gadget and you manage its usage.
In our household, I allow our children to borrow the phone or tablet depending on the agreed schedule. They may use it longer whenever chores are completed, or milestones in school or in sports are achieved.
Correspondingly, the children know that their parents can take away this privilege anytime. This hopefully limits the misplaced feeling of entitlement and reinforces the value of hard work.
05 Manage the internet.
Before your kids get online, educate them on which sites are okay to visit and which sites to avoid. As best as you can, explain why.
Teach them online etiquette and make them conscious of strangers when on social media or public chat rooms. Show them how to post thoughtfully and responsibly. Let them know that once it gets on the internet, it becomes public.
Limit their online access and presence by managing privacy settings and parental controls, where possible. You can also install applications that inform parents via email on which websites their children access. Keep your personal computer or laptop in a common area or only allow your children access when you are around.
Manage the applications your children use and set strong passwords so that they do not arbitrarily download games. Encourage them to share with you what they do online. Lastly, make it clear that as a parent, you have the right to check up on their activities online.