Parenting Win of the Week: Online Safety
Kids have access to all sorts of information — good and bad — when they surf the web. Here’s how parents can navigate this tricky situation.
I know I’ve talked about it here before, but screens can be good for many reasons and terrible for others. As my kids get older and more things move online for them in life, I can’t help but to worry about it. The internet is a giant oyster and there is nobody stopping them theoretically from discovering things that aren’t age-appropriate. When we used to ask our parents questions like “Where do babies come from?” we couldn’t then say "Hey, Google" or "Hey, Siri."
It is a different world. We have parental controls on all of our screens to weed out the really bad stuff and we also talk to our kids about do’s and don’ts. Our school also does digital citizenship classes, but I always wonder if there is more we should be doing.
So, I chatted with Bill Brady, co-founder and CEO of Troomi Wireless, a smarter and safer cell phone for kids. He explains the company as a way "to provide parents a safe-but-flexible solution with the ability to start a younger child with a very limited, age-appropriate experience but easily graduate them to additional functionality and responsibility as their needs and maturity evolve."
Here’s his advice on online safety:
What is the best way to keep kids safe with technology?
Parents should think about what their kids need right now, compared to what they will need as they mature, compared to what might always be dangerous for them — and then choose a solution wisely. A lot of problems can be avoided if kids aren’t given more technology than needed for the developmental stage they’re at, and it’s really hard to put the genie back in the bottle once kids get immersed in things like social media.
Families should have hard-and-fast rules about what kinds of content are appropriate and inappropriate, and kids should feel comfortable (not shamed!) talking to mom or dad about inappropriate stuff they’ve run into online.
While children are learning to use technology responsibly — which for me, means with intentionality and discipline — they should have content protections and monitoring mechanisms in place to make sure they don’t stumble into trouble.
What, as parents, can we be doing?
First off, we need to model intentionalism — using our own devices as tools and not as the default for passing time. Kids learn their first lessons about healthy technology habits from our examples, so if we endlessly surf from one page or post to another and kind of check out from reality, our children will do the same.
We should have home rules that help to achieve safety and balance. For example, in our family, we limit device use in bedrooms and require devices to be placed on the kitchen counter for charging at night. We also have designated "time outs" for our phones; they are not allowed at the dinner table, and we put them away on Sundays and during family gatherings.
On top of that, I think it’s essential that we try to help kids achieve a lifestyle that is not centered on technology. Programs like 1,000 Hours Outside are a fun way for the whole family to get off their devices and enjoy the benefits of being outdoors and disconnected.
What is the best way to know if your kid is ready for a cell phone?
When to give your child a smartphone is up to you — this decision should be based on your child’s maturity rather than a certain age. Be deliberate and conscientious with the choice. Kids do not need phones just because their friends have them — that is not the right motivation.
I would always advise that it be a purposeful decision. What is the need? How is it going to be used? And what is age-appropriate? How do we get the child what they need right now without getting them into situations that could be dangerous for them down the road?
I also think it’s important to take a hard look at a child's ability to self-regulate in other ways. For example, if a child has an addictive personality or undisciplined relationship with television or with video games, they may not be ready for the added responsibility of a cell phone.
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