While you're busy protecting your children from harm in the physical world, there's a whole other realm of dangers lurking in digital spaces. Allowing your children tech access can seem scary, but it's a necessity for life in the modern era. What's important is that you spend time teaching internet safety so your kids can be safe and thrive in their world. Try these tips to get started.
Come up with a household media use plan
So much of our lives take place online. There's nothing wrong with using technology, but misusing it can lead to less face-to-face interaction and bad habits for the whole family, which is why HealthyChildren suggests creating a household media use plan.
A media use plan allows you to set firm boundaries based on your family's values and lifestyles. For instance, your media use plan might make the dining table a "screen-free zone." Your plan might also limit screen time to a certain number of hours each day or define areas or times when screens are inappropriate, like in the car.
The key to making a media use plan work for your family is sitting down with everyone to discuss it. Ask your partner questions like when a kid should get a phone--most parents say only after the age of 12. Once you've laid the boundaries, be a good role model. Conform to the standards you've set and enforce the rules when someone isn't following them.
Set limits that your children understand
Your children need limits, and they expect you set those limits for them, both online and offline. Like any environment you allow your child to be in, you need to define boundaries for their online interactions—like where they can go, what apps they can use, and what's appropriate. For instance, if you allow your children to game online, are they allowed to participate in an un-moderated voice chat?
In addition to setting limits, you need to monitor your children's activity online and be aware of what they're doing. Just as you expect to know who their friends are in real life, you need to know who they're talking to online. You should also keep tabs on the sites and apps they're using and do your research—for example, many apps claim to be "educational," but they're just tools that will complete your kid's homework for them.
As a parent, it's your responsibility to set and adjust limits as your children mature and earn more privileges. However, no matter how old your children get, you must still take steps to monitor their actions and keep them safe. Kids will be kids, so if a child does break the rules, take appropriate action until they re-earn their privileges.
Allow your teenagers to be online
For parents of teenagers, the digital world can be especially scary. Unfortunately, the more you try to restrict your teenagers from being online, the more likely they will go behind your back and get into trouble. The fact is, technology is a big part of modern life, and if you're going to set your children up for success, you need to allow them to be online and offer guidance to ensure their safety.
Online relationships have become a part of normal adolescence, whether it's an alliance formed amongst a group of gamers or connections made through social media. What matters is that you remind your teen that you expect them to act appropriately. More than that, spend time teaching internet safety and make sure they know that anything they post online will exist forever and can be saved, shared, or seen by anyone.
Don't let screen time mean alone time
Often, we equate screen time to alone time because it's easy for everyone to pick up a device and get lost in it, even when people are right next to them. However, you must incorporate co-playing, co-engaging, and co-viewing into your media use, especially for young children.
Instead of just monitoring what your kids are doing on their devices, take the opportunity to interact with them. For instance, bonding and learning over a video game, television show, or other activity can be fun and engaging, especially if you use it as a platform for sharing life experiences, lessons, and perspectives.
Don't turn technology into a pacifier
Almost every parent is guilty of using a device to calm down or quiet a noisy child, but you mustn't turn to technology as an emotional pacifier. Likewise, you must teach your older children not to run to their devices when they're frustrated or upset.
Teaching children how to manage their emotions healthily is critical. Show them how to calm down using breathing exercises, guide them in using critical thinking to solve a problem on their own, present them with activities to cure boredom, and equip them with strategies to put all of their emotions to good use.
Don't ever close down communication
Ultimately, keeping the lines of communication open in your household is the best way to ensure that your children come to you when they have a question or concern about anything—especially about something they read, saw, or did online. Always remind your children that they can come to you and get help and let them know that they'll never get in trouble for being honest.
Raising your children in the digital age isn't easy, but teaching internet safety and talking openly about your expectations for your kids is important to set them up for success in the modern world.
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