The Mom’s Guide to Kids and Technology
Kids today are surrounded by technology. It’s tempting as a parent to say “no” to all the requests for smart phones, tablets, or what-have-you, but the fact is that these devices, along with the the instant, real-time connections they provide, are becoming more and more essential to our lives.
Kids are busier than ever, coming and going to school and extracurricular activities, and it is helpful to have that line of communication with their parents. The jobs our kids are going to train for, are going to be largely technology-based. Additionally, many schools around the nation are now providing mobile devices to use in the classroom, or requiring that students bring their own. Several schools are even doing away with textbooks and consumable supplies like pencils and notebooks entirely, and students are researching, doing homework, creating projects, and taking tests 100 percent digitally.
Maybe you are in one of these schools, and you’re wondering “How do I know my child is being safe online?” Or, maybe your child has expressed interest in one of these devices for their own personal use, and you’re asking yourself, “Are they ready for that responsibility?”
To determine if your child is ready to explore the cyber-world on their own, set rules, and most importantly, keep him or her safe while online with the following tips:
Is My Child Ready for a Mobile Device?
- Do they spend a part of their day outside of school, away from you? Such as going to friend’s homes, or taking a carpool to basketball or dance practice?
- Are they asking for more independence, i.e.: wanting to go places with friends and without adults?
- Are they able to care for and keep track of other valuable things like jewelry, textbooks, or pets?
- Do they demonstrate good manners on the family phone line and in conversation with others?
- Do they understand what details are too personal to share with those they don’t know, and why it can be dangerous?
- Are they able to do extra chores or save allowance to offset the cost of the device, monthly service bill, app purchases, etc.?
- If the request is for use at school, have you discussed the school’s policies with your child?
If you answered “yes” to 4 or more of the above, your child is probably ready to use a mobile device responsibly, and would benefit from having one.
How Can I Keep My Child Safe Online?
The guidelines for online safety are the same whether the child is using a mobile device, or the home computer. We recommend a parental control app such as MM Guardian or others. Things to look for when choosing an app:
- Ability to limit or restrict downloads and in-app purchases.
- GPS locating, in the event of a lost or stolen phone, or to locate your child.
- Ability to limit calling and texting to/from “safe” numbers only, and/or block numbers that you do not want your child to access.
- Ability to set time limits on game play and web browsing.
- Remote lock-out in case the phone is stolen, or to prevent your child from using the phone after their time limit is up.
- Ability to remotely monitor texting, game play, web browsing and other activities.
- If the child is of driving age, look for an app that will block usage while in a moving vehicle and explain the very real danger of texting while driving.
In addition to a parental control app, we recommend that you set very clear safety rules and usage limits with your child. Print out the rules and consequences for breaking them, and have your child sign their name in agreement. Discuss the rules often, and add or change if need be. Keep an ongoing conversation about safety and manners, and be sure to set a good example yourself by putting your phone away in the car, at the dinner table, and in church, movies, or shows.
When your child finally gets that phone or tablet they’ve been pining after, go ahead and use it to your advantage! It’s always fun to text or email your child during the day, just to say “I love you and I’m thinking about you“. They may roll their eyes, but it will go a long way towards showing them that you care. This can be a special way to stay bonded as your kiddo gets older and more independent!