Parenting tech-savvy kids is challenging. Sure, there are lots of ways technology makes our kids’ lives better. Tech simplifies communication, provides ways for us to connect easily if we’re working and they’re home alone, offers immediate access to information at the touch of a screen, etc. But there are downsides: lack of focus, access to harmful content and increases in symptoms of anxiety and depression, to name a few. In fact, sometimes it seems the bad outweighs the good. And the real problem is that while we have tech-savvy kids, we are often not-so-tech-savvy parents.
Author Andy Crouch, in his book The Tech-Wise Family, observes, ‘When previous generations confronted the perplexing challenges of parenting and family life, they could fall back on wisdom…that had been handed down for generations. But the pace of technological change has surpassed anyone’s capacity to develop enough wisdom to handle it.’
We have tech-savvy kids and not-so-savvy parents. And the gap is widening. So how do we develop wisdom? Well, in part, we learn from each other. That’s why you’re here, right? While my wife and I have made a ton of mistakes around parenting tech-savvy kids over the last 18 years, I’d like to share some wisdom that’s been passed on to us that has served us well. For their protection, here are 3 boundaries to keep when parenting tech-savvy kids.
1. No phones until twelve and no smartphones until 16.
This is counter-cultural. The average child gets his or her first smartphone at 10 and by 12 about 50% of children have social media accounts. However, we’ve felt that there is little reason for our children to have their own cell phone prior to the point they would be spending large amounts of time getting around on their own (after school activities, etc.). This enabled us to focus on developing lots of other habits when they were younger – such as reading and playing games together when bored. Sure, ‘all’ their friends got smartphones before they did and we certainly heard about it, but we’ve never once regretted that decision.
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Of course, every situation is different and there are a variety of reasons why this rule may not be the best for your specific circumstances. But in general, waiting on a smartphone until the teen years is a smart move.
2. No screens at the dinner table.
There is no reason I can think of for a child to have any electronic device with them at the dinner table. Parents either. I know, you’re kind of a big deal at your workplace and people need you. But at this moment your family needs you more. Put the devices away. Granted, you might be chuckling over the notion of a ‘family meal’. While doing this daily may be impossible, prioritizing frequent family meals has a big payoff. (If not a meal, why not try a regular snack before bed where you all check-in about the day? Whatever you do, make it device-free.)
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3. You have the right to check your child’s device.
You should have access to your kids’ passwords (teens included) and they should know you can check-in at any time. They won’t love this, and you’ll need to negotiate privacy and expectations based on age, but as much as you lack wisdom with tech, your kids’ lack it more. They need you engaged. Talk with your children about having access to their devices early on so this expectation is built into the privilege of having a device. None of this is easy and all of us are groping in the dark a little. But this is what we signed up for as parents. Being on top of tech is hard, but important, work. And know this – you’re not alone in it. Trust your gut. Ask for help. Give yourself (and your tech-savvy kids) some grace.