How Parents Can Instill Good Technology Habits in Children
As a parent, there are simple things you can do to ensure your child is using mobile technology in a safe and responsible way.
“Dad, please turn that off. I’m trying to talk with you.” That dinnertime plea from his four-year-old son was a wake up call for my friend Dustin. “I’m always after his teenage sister to cut down on her texting,” he told me. “Then I realized she’s probably taking after me.”
Many parents are ambivalent about their children’s and teens’ relationship with technology. On one hand, they know that mobile devices provide the 21st century gateways to learning, commerce and entertainment. They also worry, however, about Internet safety, distraction and overuse.
It’s important to avoid two polarized approaches—the “lock it down” and the “hands off” strategies. “Lock it down” parents micromanage digital activities and think that all online activities are a waste of time. The “hands off” parents assume that they don’t have much control and do little to influence their children’s digital lives.
We don’t have to choose between being a digital grump or a technology Pollyanna. Neither approach strikes the balance needed to help kids harness the benefits technology brings. Kids rely on parents to both nurture their digital skills and set the boundaries for healthy and appropriate behavior.
Here are some tips for fostering healthy technology use:
Set a good example
As my friend Dustin realized, children learn more from what we do than from what we say. If we’re texting and taking calls during meals, why would our kids listen when we tell them to turn their phones off? Consider a “digital curfew” for the whole family if you want to eliminate kids’ middle-of-the-night cell phone use.
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The conversations we have with our children and teens, including the questions we ask, are a huge protective factor for kids in the digital age. Use Internet incidents as an opportunity to communicate, not just a platform for endless lectures. Stick to the consequences but complement them with discussion. Listen to what your children have to say.
Set and enforce clear limits and consequences
Set clear ground rules about when, where and how much your kids can use their mobile devices. Include text-message limits and Internet use in your rules. Support the school’s cell phone rules. Kids whose parents have clear rules along with ongoing communication are much more likely to have healthier digital habits—even if the teenagers roll their eyes on occasion.
Take an interest in their digital lives
Use the Tips for Parents section of Verizon Insider’s Guide to find an expanding set of age-appropriate games, sites, apps and other digital tools.
At the end of the day, we know that technology is going to be key to kids’ 21st century success. We also know that age-old skills like respect, concentration, quiet reflection and good communication skills are still essential. So kids need more than access to technology. They also need to learn the discipline, ethics and problem-solving skills that will enable them to use digital tools in ways that are healthy and useful. From there, the sky’s the limit.