Reminiscing about the good old days when we were growing up is a memory trip well worth taking when trying to understand the issues facing the children of today. A mere 20 years ago, children used to play outside all day, riding bikes, playing sports and building forts.
Today’s families are different. Technology’s impact on the 21st century family is fracturing its very foundation, and causing a disintegration of core values that long ago were the fabric that held families together. Juggling school, work, home, and community lives, parents now rely heavily on communication, information, and transportation technology to make their lives faster and more efficient. Entertainment technology (TV, Internet, video games, iPads, cell phones) has advanced so rapidly, that families have scarcely noticed the significant impact and changes to their family structure and lifestyles.
The impact of rapidly advancing technology on the developing child has seen an increase of physical, psychological and behavior disorders that the health and education systems are just beginning to detect, much less understand. Child obesity and diabetes are now national epidemics in both Canada and the U.S., causally related to technology overuse. Diagnoses of ADHD, autism, coordination disorder, developmental delays, unintelligible speech, learning difficulties, sensory processing disorder, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders are associated with technology overuse, and are increasing at an alarming rate.
When looking at how to keep your kids safe online, consider these approaches:
Your kids want to be on their devices all the time. They have figured out how to make an iPod, mobile device, or computer do things that you never thought possible. Great news, there is great monitoring software out there. We recommend a products like Qustodio and Kaspersky Safe Kids.
These are both software for mobile devices and hardware for your home. They cover every device in your house and mobile devices that leave your house. They let you set time limits for how much you use the internet inside and outside the home.
Your kids want to connect to their friends and family. Relationships by themselves are neutral, so this is a good thing. You want your child to build great friendships, but what happens when they start using apps, websites, and other platforms, and connect to people outside of friends and family?
You don’t always know who your kids are communicating with and you wish there was a solution that could give you a heads-up when they are being bullied or have seen adult material that you really don’t want them to see. You don’t have time as a parent to go through every piece of communication your kids have with others.
Services like those above and Life360, Sygic Family Locator, Geozilla and Tile offer precious comfort allowing you to monitor your child’s location and messages.
This is truly the protection piece that will do more than any software, hardware, or even artificial intelligence. This hole is filled by the relationship you have with your child. That relationship is better than any parental control that you will find on mobile devices or gaming consoles.
If you do not have a firm foundation or “ground” with your child, then you will have electricity flowing with their technology, but true protection isn’t happening. How do you ground your relationship with your child? I believe it comes down to how you model your own use of technology and how you talk about technology. Sometimes as adults we need to get off of our devices as much as kids need to get off of theirs.
The other piece is how we are talking about technology. Don’t play dumb when it comes to tech. Sure, there may be a ton that you don’t understand and you are tired of trying to keep up. That said, be curious, cautious, and finally courageous:
Curious: Ask this question to your kid the next time you see them on a device, “Can you teach me how to do that?”
Cautious: Lean into your experience and relate with what your child may be going through. The reason they are using technology so much may be because they are escaping from something. Next time you see them escape for a long period of time with their device ask, “What was the most interesting thing you did or saw?” This gives you an opening into their life.
Courageous: Technology not only lets you consume a ton of information and entertainment, it allows you to create things that you never thought possible. Instead of seeing technology as something that is always consumed, inspire your kids to create amazing things with it. Ask your child, “If you could create anything in the world, what would you create?” If it is technology-based, let them do it. Changing the purpose of technology from consumption to creation will truly change how you talk about technology.