Parenting the Plugged-In Child
My 8-year-old daughter recently bought, with my permission, an iPod Touch with her own money (which she has been saving for almost a year.) This single purchase has resulted in a variety of significant decisions for our family. Some planned (e.g., time limits on technology use), and some not (e.g., it is not OK to FaceTime while in the bathroom. Yep, true story.)
As a parent and a high school teacher, I value the vast educational and social opportunities that technology can offer. I watch, fascinated, as my students find new ways to connect and communicate with each other, discover how to access a greater variety of information and perspectives from outside the classroom, and develop problem-solving and personal management skills. I marvel at my 8-year-old choosing to spend her free time learning the 50 states or how to count money because of apps her teacher found, at her innovative approach to anger-management by taking a break and texting her feelings to me before she blows up, and at her joyful FaceTime conversations with her grandmother who lives in another state.
Yet, although I recognize that comfort with technology is an essential skill in today's adult world and will become even more essential when our children are grown, I cannot disregard the potential risks and challenges that face our young people as a result. And I know that my job as a parent is to help my daughter navigate those risks and challenges with the minimum damage possible.
It is a conundrum. And I don't have all the answers. But I do believe that the following are the places to start.
Self-Education: Change happens really fast in the tech world. There is always a new tool or app, a new popular website, or a new piece of equipment to find your way around. As a parent, I've got to do my best to be aware of what my daughter has access to, how to effectively use that technology, and what the potential risks or challenges might be regarding that technology. The upside? Technology helps us help ourselves! The resources to the right are a great place to start.
Family Communication: Open, honest communication within a family about expectations and behavior regarding technology are essential. That awkward conversation with my daughter about what is and is not appropriate to do while on FaceTime sets the foundation for later conversations about what is and is not appropriate to post on social media. Parenting experts have for years expounded on the importance of setting boundaries for our children--personal technology is just another area in which to do so. And only you can know what boundaries are best based on your family's situation, values, and expectations.
Vigilance: A young person seeks to expand her horizons--that's her job. But children and teens do not always stop to consider the later consequences of an action that seems fine at the time. Parenting means striking a frustrating, changing balance between knowing about and protecting our children from dangers, while at the same time giving them room to make their own mistakes so as to learn from them. But we cannot strike that balance without knowing what our children are doing in the first place.
Now that my daughter has walked through a new door in her development as a technologically-savvy person, I know that my journey as her parent and companion has only begun. I have no doubt that I will make plenty of mistakes, as will she. The good news? The journey will certainly never be dull.
Food for Thought: Resources for Families
Tech@SMA: Check out SMA's Tech Site for the SMA policies, guidelines and great tips and FAQs about iPads, including troubleshooting tech issues at home.
Common Sense Media: This large site contains lots of information ranging from reviews on TV shows, movies, websites, and apps to articles and resources about issues and challenges related to technology.
Connect Safely: This site offers some straightforward information guides about popular tools (e.g., Snapchat) and current issues (e.g. digital footprints) related to technology.
NYTimes Collection on Bullying: The NY Times has done a nice job of collecting a bunch of resources (articles, websites, etc.) about issues related to bullying and social media. Much of the information is directed more at an educator audience, but it can be useful for families too.
TechChef4U Tips for Parents: This particular post from the TechChef4U site has some good tips for managing iPads at home by reducing distractions, setting expectations and incentives, etc.
Generation Smartphone: A Guide For Parents of Tweens and Teens: This report, created by Lookout Mobile Technology and The Online Mom, is designed by parents for parents and contains straightforward advice about how to talk to your kids about technology, boundaries, challenges, etc., while still giving them the ability to gain the benefits that technology can offer. This page in particular offers advice about cell phones.
The Online Mom: Created by parents for parents, this site contains a huge variety of articles and guides about everything from how to use tech tools to current technology challenges.
"Help! I Can't Put Down My Phone!" by Margaret Kaminski (published by Scholastic) does a great job discussing how technology has changed the way young people approach learning and social behavior, and offering practical tips to help young people regain balance.