Navigating our Children Through a World Of Technology

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They are in all of our homes. I bet you are using one right now to read this. We have a love/hate relationship with them. We crave them, desire them, and get addicted to them. That’s right. I’m talking about the devices that connect us to the world and its technology.

Our children are growing up in the Digital Native Generation (McKnight, 2019, vii). They will never know a life without technology, social media, and the instant gratification that comes via the internet. There are many reasons why technology is necessary and beneficial for our children, yet there are an overwhelming amount of reasons to be concerned with technology consumption.

Let me preface all of this by saying that I love social media, binging on my favorite television shows, playing on my phone, and using devices as much as the next person. My children have iPads in their classrooms; they play on iPads and the computer at home. They know how to talk to Siri, Google Home, and stream shows on the television. My boys are eight, six, and three, and while they are still young, my husband and I are already having discussions regarding boundaries regarding technology.

“Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master” -Christian Low Laye

My youngest wasn’t a fan of television until just after he turned three, got a stomach bug, and wanted to lay on mom for a week straight. He learned the new life of Disney + streaming and Toy Story marathons. I kept telling myself I wasn’t sure if this was a parenting win or fail. My other boys were watching able to be distracted with television at a much younger age, albeit watching Sesame Street or Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.

I mean, we all need a hot minute, right? Just 30 minutes to plop our kids in front of Sid the Science Kid or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse so we can grab a shower, prep dinner, whatever. Television can be a great resource for educational shows and providing access to a world they may not get to experience firsthand-thanks Planet Earth and National Geographic. Let’s be honest, sometimes television is the free version of a mother’s helper or a brain break zone after school.

Technology and Kids

Technology as our children age

As our children get older, they set aside the PBS Kids and the Disney Channel shows. They then get curious about the world of video games. These days gaming can be done online, on phones, tablets, and probably less commonly through an actual gaming system. Some say that video games are used for educational gaming, improving hand-eye coordination, problem-solving, social skills, and more.  (Swanson, 2019, 115). Parents also suggest there’s a bonding aspect to playing video games with friends or family members in a friendly, but in a competitive setting.

We’ve seen gaming systems fade out, televisions get smaller, streaming services taking over, and technology put into the palms of our hands. My husband was Team Flip Phone for the longest time until he needed to swap to a smartphone for work purposes. I think it’s safe to say we’ll never go back. I am, however, Team Flip Phone when it comes time to purchasing a phone for my children. Cell phones allow us to have access to everything at the touch of a button: calendars, clocks, internet, social media, trackers, shopping apps, books, music, news, games, etc…it’s all there. Texting, calling, and video chatting helps us stay connected to friends and family near and far.

While all of these things offer us many valuable resources, almost every parent I talked to, could list a dozen things they despise about the effects of social media, screen time, and cell phones in our children’s daily life.

The technology concerns were almost all the same across the board:

  • The time children spent watching television, playing video games, using the phone or tablet.
  • Accessing content that wasn’t age-appropriate.
  • Increased negative behavior due to the content they were viewing, or because their device was being taken away/turned off.
  • The changes in our children’s brains. The long-term addictive wires that are melding together.
  • They can’t unsee certain things.
  • Long periods of sitting watching television or playing video games can lead children to become withdrawn, socially lost, or have health problems.
  • The overall expense being put into the hands of children.
  • Pornography and other “adult” content become available at the swipe of a finger.

So. Technology. Devices. Connection. It’s all great. Until it isn’t.

Until we face the facts that our children crave them, desire them, abuse them, and get addicted to them. Perhaps you feel like Alice who fell down the rabbit’s hole into Wonderland. You don’t know where you are, you’re in too deep, you’ve already given into screen time, devices, cell phones, and you don’t know which end is up. What are you going to do?

Here are a few ways to make significant changes with small steps.

Repeat after me, “I am the parent, I control the devices.”

  • Designate bedrooms as “screen-free zones.” All tablets, cell phones, and laptops stay in one place at night. Setting up a charging station is a fun way to get devices in one space before bedtime.
  • Place computers in central locations around the house where usage can be monitored.
  • Limit the amount of time-consuming television/video games. “A boy should never engage in more virtual reality than real activity, he should never spend more time watching sports than playing them, nor should he spend more time playing video games than playing with friends.” (James, Stephen, and David Thomas, 2009, 301)
  • Implement the concept of teach-govern. Parents, teach your children correct principles (for your family) and then let them govern themselves using those principles. (Mcknight, 2019, 178) Create a plan with firm but reasonable rules for social media/technology devices usage. If they break those rules, then they have a punishment. I give you permission to take away the device for a set time.
  • Turn off your wifi at night or at times when you can’t monitor what your children are doing online.
  • Just because one of your children is responsible enough for a specific device, doesn’t mean ALL of the children are ready for that device. Make your choices on a child-by-child basis.

Technology

  • Set-up a system of “do before you view” activities. This could include playing outside, chores, reading, creating art, building with legos, playing with toys, coloring, exercise/running around. Keep a list posted where your children can see it, so they know they need to complete a set amount of activities (or play for a specified time) before asking for screen time.
  • If your child is in a situation where they aren’t supposed to be using a cell phone, don’t tempt them. Don’t text or call them when they are in school.
  • Discuss rules and expectations you have with your child about using social media. As the parent, you monitor their social media; you should have access to their phones/app passwords, etc. Remind them that NOTHING IS PRIVATE on the internet. NOTHING. Have them consider the “think twice, post once” rule. Have them ask, “how would I feel about my mom or dad seeing this on social media?”
  • Use a cell phone/social media/screen time contract. There are hundreds of them online. Find one that works for your family. Boom!
  • Create child accounts for your children, but scan for content. Not even YouTube Kids is always kiddo friendly.
  • Discuss approved apps for your children to have on their phones/tablets. If they want to download something onto their phone, they need to ask permission first.
  • Use filters. Do your research and find out which ones will work best for your family for the stage you are in right now. Suggested filters:  Phone Sheriff, FamiSafe, Qustodio, Net Nanny, OurPact, mspy, Kidslox, Bark, Covenant Eyes, Parent Kit, Apple Screen Time, or Google Family Link
  • Set-up a plan for your child to get ahold of you, without purchasing them a cell phone. What is your plan for getting hold of your child if you need to? If they are at a sports practice, do you have the coach’s number? If they are at school and you have a change of plans for pick-up, can you call the school to deliver a message? If they are with a friend, does the friend’s parent or the friend have a phone they can use? Often times there will be other people around who can help your child make a phone call. Side note: Does your child know your phone number?
  • Think about your why before you buy. Most kids just need a call or text function, not access to all that a smartphone has to offer.
  • Older children should help pay for their cell phone plans. If they break it, they need to help pay to replace it.
  • Do not share passwords or devices with friends.
  • Lead by example. Don’t spend all of your time on your cell phone or watching television, and then get upset at your child for doing the same thing.
  • Engage with your child. Don’t just jump in the car and turn on DVDs. Let them look out the window, talk to them while you shop at the grocery store, let them be BORED.

Children know what’s up mamas…

They pick-up how to use devices so quickly, and often without even being taught how. The world of technology is changing so fast. Newer, brighter, shinier devices are hitting the market all the time. Stay vigilant. Hold steady on your course and stand firm to your convictions. Filters can’t catch it all. Kids can be sneaky, and they will try to hide what they don’t what you to see. Technology is a privilege, not a right, and we should help them navigate these waters.

References:

James, Stephen, and David Thomas.  Wild Things: the art of nurturing boys.  Illinois: Tyndale House Publishing Inc., 2009.

McKnight, Mindy. Viral Parenting: A Guide to Setting Boundaries, Building Trust, and Raising Responsible Kids in an Online World.  New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2019.

Swanson, Monica. Boy Mom: What Your Son Needs Most from You. New York: WaterBrook, 2019.

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Ellen Kehs was born and raised in Evanston, Illinois where she met and later married her high school sweetheart, Mason. Together they’ve traveled the world, most recently touching down in Omaha in June 2019. She’s a mom to three little boys, Theodore (nine), Woodrow (seven), and Maximus (four). Life is never boring with her boys! Ellen loves being a military spouse and she embodies the “bloom where you are planted” mentality. In addition to soaking up whatever current city she’s living in, she is passionate about reading and getting books in the hands of children, as well as helping other mamas connect with each other. She has a bachelor’s degree in secondary English education, a master’s degree in adolescent literacy and technology, and she teaches 6th-12th grade English online full-time, but is primarily a stay-at-home mom. Her hobbies include, exploring, reading, swimming, napping, snapping pictures, playing games, baking, and loving on the little men in her life.