by Mark Timm, CEO Ziglar Family
Whenever I have a conversation with parents about the biggest challenges they face with raising kids in today’s world, the single issue that comes up time and time again is technology.
Because most of us who are raising tweens and teens didn’t have internet when we were kids, much less personal access to it right in the palm of our hands, we really don’t have any good parenting examples to draw from as we try to make sense of it all and make good decisions for our own families.
My wife Ann and I are the first to admit that if there was a parenting mistake to make around kids and smartphones, we’ve probably made it. The good news is that we have learned from our mistakes, and we’re constantly sharing what we’ve learned so that other families might benefit from our experience.
There are countless aspects to the topic of kids and technology, so many that it would be impossible to even scratch the surface in a single blog post. However, we can offer 5 solid habits that we believe every parent can benefit from putting into practice, so let’s start there.
The Top 5 Technology Practices for Parents
1. Be an example. Our own habits with phones, computers, and devices will influence our children more than anything we say to them about how technology should be used. One of the best things we did was ask our kids to hold us accountable, to call us out if they see us using our devices when we shouldn’t be, like at meal time or when we’re supposed to be having a conversation.
Believe me, I’m really a work in progress on this one. The kids are quick to say, “Dad, are you paying attention to me, or to the phone” if I get distracted when I’m with them. It’s embarrassing, really, to be caught behaving in a way that we have discouraged our children from behaving.
2. Be intentional. Don’t let your family’s relationship with technology just happen. The best advice I can give here is to really take a look at your “why.”In other words, why are you considering giving your child a phone? Is it to communicate when they are away from home? That’s understandable, but it doesn’t require a smartphone and all of the access such a device allows.
In our household, we’ve adopted a family phone — a flip phone that goes with the kids when they’re away from home.Once the kids are a bit older, which for us means they’re driving, we re-examine our why and consider whether they’ve achieved a level of need and responsibility to justify the smartphone. If they have, then we are intentional about setting up the parameters for that responsibility.
3. Be proactive. When you do decide it’s time to allow the more advanced access to technology, you need to anticipate issues that may arise. Sit down with the kids and have discussions to agree on expectations ahead of time.
You’ll also want to proactively decide how you’ll monitor their technology use, as well as put into place a plan to deal with instances when expectations aren’t met. As with all disciplinary issues, it’s far better to respond with a plan that’s in place than to react in the moment. (We’re a big fan of contracts!)
4. Be flexible. Adjust as the technology changes, and as kids change. Thank goodness we can make adjustments on the fly, since technology is changing almost daily! The rules and parameters we set up years ago when our oldest kids got their first phones have dramatically changed, as they should!
As a parent, you’re going to have to own the responsibility of staying on top of what trends are happening in the cyber world, and respond accordingly. There are multiple ways to approach this, and one that we recommend is The Culture Translator, a weekly newsletter from our friends at Axis.org that gives parents insight into how technology and media is influencing our children.
5. Be engaged. Above all else, the biggest danger is to give your children a hand-held device that allows them free access to the entire worldwide web, and then hope for the best without staying closely engaged with how they are using it. Aside from using parental monitoring apps (we like Qustodio) , be alert to changes in your child’s behavior or personality.
We recently noticed one of our teens getting a little bit of an attitude around the house, not wanting to help out with chores and doing a lot of eye-rolling. As a result, we determined that her interaction with friends online was having a negative effect on the interaction with siblings and parents at home, so her phone was taken away for a time.
Guess what? Not days, but really just hours later, the attitude started coming back around. It wasn’t that she wanted the phone back, but that suddenly there was an awareness of life happening in real time, and that it was kind of fun to be a part of it!
These are just a few of the strategies we’ve learned to manage our kids’ access to technology, and though the cyber world is changing daily, these 5 core principles are solid foundational practices to put in place that will allow you to ebb and flow with the technology tide.
What are some other strategies that you’ve found to be effective in your household? Share your ideas with us here; we’d love to learn from your experience!