As parents who grew up in a world without social media, instant text messaging and video calling, it can be hard to know how to monitor your child’s online identity. Today, children and teenagers grow up with technology at the epicenter of their worlds—and for good reason. Technology helps connect youngsters with the entire world, provides information at the drop of a hat and allows them to virtually explore the world around them by the mere click of a button. Since it’s important for children to learn and use technology in their daily lives, parents need to know how to embrace modern conveniences while still providing a safe learning environment for their children. According to the National Association for Children and Safe Technology, every family should have a digital media plan that helps ensure that everyone in the family is safe. Here are five steps to making your own digital family plan.
It’s important that parents not be naive when it comes to technology and their children. Handheld devices and online games are popular starting as early as 4 and 5 years of age. And let’s face it, sometimes the youngest kids are ten times better at surfing the technological wave than their less aware parents. Technology really moves at the speed of light so the most important thing to do is connect with a support group of other parents. Think about starting a support group at your child’s school and make it a point to ask parents what apps/social media devices they’ve seen their children use so you can be up on the newest technology. Talk to the parents of your child’s friends about their own digital family plan to make sure it aligns with your own policies. If it doesn’t, make sure the parents adhere to your rules when your child is over to stay.
Be App Aware
The great thing about technology is that it’s also available at the disposal of adults. There is technology available that can help you monitor your child’s online activities. From apps that lock-out certain functions of the phone during designated times, like during dinner or family vacation to apps that literally trace your child’s location, there are plenty of options available that will be the perfect fit for your family. Other options include apps that block inappropriate content, driving apps that monitor your teenagers’ speed and even apps that make your child want to answer your call. Remember, you’ve gifted your children the ability to have handheld devices and cell phones, so you are responsible for securing their safety while using such devices. When it comes to your household computer, think about getting a laptop that you keep in a communal area during the day and take with you to bed each night. Doing so will eliminate a lot of late-night searching that can cause kids to get in trouble.
Invest in Education
In today’s schools, technology is an important tool that is used in the classroom every day and for good reason. It’s predicted that the future of the career world will rely on computer-based technology and it’s a skill that our children must know to live wholly in their internet-based world. Because of this, it’s important to create programs at school that help protect your children while also fostering a positive environment to understand and progress the technology curriculum. Join forces with the Parent/Teacher Association (PTA) or start after-school clubs that focus on providing safe technology for children in the school system.
Have a Conversation
The most important step to keeping your child safe online is to begin talking with them at a young age about the risks of online use and the websites/social media areas that are off-limits for your family. By letting your kids control the knowledge about certain online situations, they will feel empowered to make the correct choices. They will understand the reasons behind some of the rules that your household has set. Make sure to also discuss the current state laws about sending and receiving pictures and the importance of being aware of cyber-bullying. It’s also vital that you discuss with your child the idea of their “online presence” and the fact that things they post can stay with them a lifetime.
Be Health Cautious
Since technology is moving at a fast pace, it can be hard to determine the health effects that come with so much phone and screen time. Be aware of the current research involving radiation emissions, texting while driving or listening to earbuds at a loud level and pass that info on to your children. Since children are constantly growing and learning during their youth, make sure to set a “lights out” time each day and stick to it. A healthy sleep environment will require time to put away phones and turn off the television to ensure that their body has time to reprogram for the next day.
Taking control of your child’s technology may seem invasive but the reality is that it will help them make the proper choices now to avoid problems later. Remind children that what they post now may continue to affect their lives for years to come. Set limits and boundaries in the home, like a time each night to unplug and reconnect as a family. Making a digital plan for your home will ensure that everyone feels safe and secure and knows how to use technology in a responsible and positive way.