When it comes to kids and computers most parents tend to freak out a little. After all, computers are evil, aren’t they? They keep kids from playing together out in the ‘real world’, they keep kids up way too late at night and they ruin their attention spans. It seems best to just keep well away!
But technology isn’t going away. In fact it’s only getting bigger! More and more our business, our communication, our recreation and our education is going online. You can’t even fill your car with petrol now or pay your phone bill without interacting with a computer. So as parents it’s just not practical to ignore it all and expect the kids to fend for themselves somehow.
The solution is to get informed and teach your children how to use technology within safe and balanced boundaries.
It’s the same principle with everything for kids – TV is not dangerous, but TV without boundaries is. Playing outside is not dangerous but playing outside with no boundaries definitely is! And chocolate by itself is not dangerous but too much chocolate will rot your teeth and ruin your concentration.
Boundaries should be appropriate to your child’s age and development
So what are good boundaries for kids to have with technology?
Well, like everything, they vary depending on the age and responsibility of your children. Would you let your 8 year old have private conversations with strangers in the ‘real world’? Then probably giving them a free license to use IM or Facebook is not a good idea. A 15 year old can probably be trusted a little more, but we still wouldn’t let them use it all the time. Boundaries with technology should be sensible and in line with the sort of responsibility we can expect from a child of that age, the same as we would have with any other area of their life.
Get familiar with the technology that your children are using
Your first step in setting boundaries with computers is to get familiar with technology. I’m not saying get a job at the Apple Store’s Genius Bar, but at least be aware of what is out there and what kids are using (and are wanting to use!) For example if you don’t know that iPods, iPhones and Nintendo DSs can access the internet then you probably don’t know enough. If you didn’t understand a word of what I just said then you definitely don’t know enough! You need to know what technology is capable of, so that you can work out what level of responsibility your children need to have to be able to use it.
If you want your kids to have a balanced use of technology, model it yourself.
Find out what the common consoles (phones, gaming devices etc) are and also what the most popular websites and internet services are. You can’t set boundaries on things that you don’t know anything about. And be encouraged: you don’t need to be an expert on technology to set boundaries on them. You just need to know a bit. It’s kind of like teaching kids to drive: you don’t need to be able to pull apart an engine to teach your teenager to drive. You just need to know how to drive!
Introduce technology wisely to your children
Next, be wise about what you introduce your kids to. For instance, don’t give a phone to a 7 year old. If your 7 year old needs a phone to tell you where they are, then there are serious problems with the supervision of your child! Put filters on your internet and keep your computer in a public place. Talk with your kids about why you are doing it this way. Talk about the dangers and the need for your child to learn responsibility with technology. Have reasonable consequences for irresponsible behaviour.
Set time limits
The next point is to set some time limits on computer use. But before we do this take a look at your own use of technology. Are you addicted to phone apps? Are you spending too many late nights playing online games? Are you checking your Twitter account every few seconds? Is the TV on from the moment you get home from work to the moment you go to bed? If you want your kids to have a balanced use of technology, model it yourself.
Get informed and teach your children how to use technology within safe and balanced boundaries.
As a general rule with setting time limits on computer use; one or two hours a day is plenty. Turn off the internet connection or cancel the phone plan if necessary (pre-paid should be the only way for teenagers so that they only spend what they can afford out of their own money). Children need actual face-to-face time with other kids and with you! Encourage their social and mental development with a variety of activities: music, craft, and sport. This requires more effort from you, and more time, which is another reason why you need to make sure that you have this balance in your lifestyle first. You can’t just reduce their technology time and leave it void. That would be like taking away an unhealthy diet and not replacing it with anything at all! Impossible!
Use technology together in a positive way
Part of setting limits too is showing children how to use technology for productive things. Make technology a positive part of your home, not a forbidden pleasure. Have your children help you set up a wireless music network, work on designing a website or photo book together, or spend time watching funny YouTube clips together.
It’s honestly not all bad. It just needs good boundaries.