Technology & the Power of Parents

Technology & the Power of Parents

by Kathryn M. D’Imperio

When most of us were kids, computers and the Internet were still in their infancy compared to today. Most people didn’t even have a cell phone until the early 2000’s – well after college for many. Today’s kids are growing up with smartphones, tablets, and a never-ending supply of apps and websites to keep life more interesting and convenient. Smartphones operate like miniature computers, allowing us to do just about anything we’d normally do on the computer right from the palms of our hands. With so many apps and social outlets at our fingertips, and even more on the horizon, parents must be the gatekeepers to their children’s technology use. 

To keep their kids and the entire family safe, parents should have some level of involvement and knowledge of their sons’ and daughters’ phone and computer activities and social media accounts. From protecting against predators to staying aware of bullying and other issues, parental participation in the family’s technology use can really make a difference in the safety and emotional health of the children and possibly other kids, too.

Ensuring Safe Use of Technology at Home and on the Go

Safety in technology use can pertain to driving safety as well as safety using apps and the Internet. Instruct your children, above all, not to text and drive and to avoid becoming distracted by cell phone use of any kind. Encourage them not to pick up the phone while driving, to instead pull over if they can do so safely, or to wait until they reach their destination to check the missed call. Safe driving practices can save a life, and it might just be their own.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends becoming familiar with the websites your child visits and the apps he or she uses. Get to know the pros and cons of each and make a judgment call as far as your child’s usage. The CDC also suggests connecting with the school as needed to learn about “electronic aggression” or cyber bullying and to understand school policies and available resources should your child experience problems with other kids.

Technology is an amazing tool, but our use of it – whether responsible or irresponsible – can determine whether it helps or hurts our kids.

You should identify appropriate sites and apps for your kids to use and those they should avoid. You can set up internet filtering software and home parental controls to help minimize your kids’ exposure to inappropriate material. Mobile device management solutions can provide app blocking and essentially a “remote control” for your child’s phone, which may help to enforce your rules and alleviate some of your concerns with your kids having their own cell phones. In some cases, you can even turn off the phone’s features during homework time or overnight when they should be sleeping.

Remember, when you set rules and limitations at home, and even if you’ve enabled blocks and filters on particular websites or applications, children are sometimes savvy enough to get around those restrictions or they may simply access from a friend’s computer. For this reason, it pays to approach safety with technology and electronics from a more inclusive standpoint, employing several different efforts to coach and encourage the behaviors you expect from your kids. 

Social Media Awareness and Accountability

Much of a parent’s worry about kids on the Internet comes down to predators, bullying, and giving away too much personal information. In the age of social media, kids are getting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social sites younger and younger, merely by providing a (sometimes) fake, age-appropriate birth date and their email address. Talking to your kids about their day and what goes on at school is a great first step to staying in tune with their lives. Hopefully this is already a common practice for most families, but if not, now is a good time to start.

Requiring that you know the password to your children’s social accounts can help to deter them from posting inappropriate remarks or photos. It can also help you to keep tabs on what others are saying to your child more privately through inbox messages. Parents can also familiarize themselves with the privacy and security settings on social sites to ensure they are appropriately enabled to protect your child and your family.

Have a conversation with your child every now and again to discuss appropriate behaviors and usage of technology. Remind your sons and daughters to keep their address and contact information private from strangers and encourage them to come to you with any questions or concerns they have, not just about technology, but about life.

Realistic Privileges and Limitations

Kids seem to be getting cell phones younger and younger these days. If you find yourself agreeing to give your kids their own phones, be sure to set some expectations right from the get go. You may have your kids’ phones on a family plan with an expectation that they stay within limits you set as far as data usage, number of minutes allotted, number of text messages allotted, and so forth. It is important to set boundaries, not just for the cell phone plan, but to preserve family life and school studies.

You may also want to nail down some specifics as far as appropriate times to use the phone and when it must be switched off for the night. For example, you may require your kids to turn off their phones after 8 or 9 p.m. and during the school day. (Of course, if you worry that you might have to get in touch with your child in case of emergency, you can certainly adjust the timing and expectations.) You may wish to require that your kids give you their cell phones or switch them off when your family goes out to dinner at a restaurant or some other place for family time. 

Consider making a list of rules and guidelines for technology and cell phone use. This can help your kids to always be aware of what you expect from them. It also helps to prevent the lines from blurring a bit over time. Remind your children that having a cell phone is not a right, it is a privilege and you expect them to behave appropriately, both in technology usage and in day-to-day life. Technology is an amazing tool, but our use of it – whether responsible or irresponsible – can determine whether it helps or hurts our kids.

Still, at the end of the day, sometimes it is the parents who need to stay in check. Many of us are too distracted by our phones to give our children the full attention they need. Reading a few more Facebook status updates, browsing the Web, or sending just one more email can certainly wait when we’re (supposed to be) spending quality time with our kids.  

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