Technology and kids…what a topic, right? Last week I shared on Instagram that we introduced personal devices to our girls and it felt like we officially opened the technology box. I put up a question box on Instagram asking you all how you handle technology and kids. So many of you shared your thoughts, rules, and restrictions and it was so incredibly helpful. It also seemed like a lot of you might be in the same boat as me because there were multiple requests to share what I learned.
So, I thought that today I would share y’all’s input along with my thought process around how we as parents navigate the world of technology with our kids. I do not have the right answers by any means , but I do think we can all learn so much from each other. The intention of this post is to stir up questions, provide guidance and suggestions that you all so generously gave, and to encourage all of us to put our kids’ best interest first as we navigate this crazy world!
Technology and Kids:
Travis and I are obviously not strangers to technology. However, we are well aware that our relationship with technology will be different than our kids. Travis and I grew up without technology until about high school where as our girls have grown up seeing it and using some form of it since they were babies.
For the most part, Travis and I have kept technology such as personal iPads, phones, etc., at arms length. Our girls (6 and 8 years old) have not owned a gaming system, a tablet, or a phone until this past Christmas. We very rarely gave them our phones at dinner to occupy themselves, and rarely let them play games on our iPhones. We made the personal choice to keep our kids off devices as long as possible. We allowed some technology such as movies on road trips or watching a show like “Dude Perfect” on Youtube, but it was always under the supervision of my husband, Travis, or myself.
I won’t go into all of our reasons for being so conservative with technology, but will share the overarching themes for that choice. In general, we wanted our children to be technology-free as long as possible in an effort to encourage imaginative play. Developmentally there have also been proven benefits of a child’s brain function and development without technology v with technology. We also wanted our children to be able to function independent of technology in social settings. For example, we wanted them to be able to sit at dinner with their grandparents and talk with them rather then be glued to a screen. *NOTE: we aren’t perfect and have of course had times where our kids have watched something on our phone at dinner.
We are very aware that our decision to withhold technology even this far is not the norm. And, we know going forward we will probably hold a more conservative viewpoint on technology than our children’s friends.
The Introduction of Personal Technology Devices Into Our Family
After a lot of thought and discussion though, we decided to introduce personal technology devices to our kids this past Christmas. The first thing we added was a nintendo switch for our 8 year old. Our girls have been wanting one for over a year. There is no inherent harm in a gaming device, but we knew how easily it could become all-consuming. We wanted our girls to be able to play and have fun on a gaming device, while also setting parameters so that they still engaged in imaginative and screen-free play. Although the switch is for our oldest, we are well aware that our youngest plays with it just as much. After all, they say your kids are as old as your oldest child, right?
The second thing we added was a TickTalk watch. Emma Grace is getting older and earning more freedom. She is riding her bike more and is mature enough to walk in and out of her activities without me walking with her. We wanted something that would allow us to safely communicate with her without giving her access to the internet and apps. A phone is off limits for us at this point, so the TickTalk watch seemed to be the perfect solution.
If you’ve never heard of a TickTalk watch, I’ll share a brief description. The TickTalk watch is a smart watch that can be controlled by the parent. The watch tells the time, can initiate and receive calls, initiate and receive texts, and bonus – has a GPS tracker on it. It’s managed by a parent via an app. We preprogram which numbers Emma can receive calls from and which numbers she can call. We can disable the watch during school hours, and we can see where she is at all times via the GPS tracker. The best part about this versus a phone is that there are no apps. She cannot access the internet at all and therefore is not exposed to that world.
We knew Emma Grace was mature enough to handle this device, whereas her sister is not there yet and doesn’t honestly have a need for it either. It has been so beneficial so far. I can text her to walk out to my car when I pick her up from dance, for example. She’s also communicating more with her grandparents. It’s given her more freedom and autonomy, too, while still being safe.
Technology Boundaries For Kids
Questions we considered prior to introducing technology:
Making the decision to give our kids personal devices was a tough one. We had several discussions about it and ultimately, used the questions below as a guide to our discussion.
- Is she responsible enough to own a device? Can she take care of her device? Will she break or lose it?
- Can she be trusted (and not disobey our rules) with the device?
- What are there true benefits?
- What are the negative effects?
- What rules/boundaries do we need to put in place?
- How do we model a healthy relationship with technology? What do we personally need to change?
Strategies for Managing Technology and Kids:
As we were processing the introduction of personal devices, several of our friends suggested the following strategies and approaches to technology and kids:
- Create a technology contract stating that the device is owned by the parent and not the child. The parent has full rights to view everything on the device.
- Set time limits – both at home and at school
- school – disabled the watch during school hours; give the teacher has permission to take the device if it becomes a distraction
- home – no devices allowed at meals, turn in the device at 7, etc.
- Charge in a common area – we actually charge Emma’s devices in our room
- Keep your priorities – school, sports, reading time, etc., all of that comes before time on a device
- Be a role model with our own technology
- Protect/kid-proof devices – there are controls you can set for even the simplest of technology; example: block outside callers, etc.
- Discuss cyber bullying
To wrap up this post, I wanted to share advice, considerations, and rules from you, the reader! I am so appreciative to each and every one of you that so graciously and kindly gave you input. I received insight from parents with high school students, parents with young children, and teachers. So many of you weighed in! Thank you! All of your advice and technology rules are laid out below.
I did want to take one moment to mention that more than one of you (some of which have a family member involved in cyber security) touched on pornography. The overarching theme in regards to pornography and technology is that kids are exposed to pornography at a super young age. Often the question you need to ask when giving your child access to the internet is “when are you comfortable with your child being exposed to porn? Kids are exposed to porn so young that it’s not something we can or should avoid. If you’re clueless as to where to start this book, is a great first step!
- Delay technology as long as possible
- Be open and honest with your children about what they might encounter
- Know there will be pressure from other parents to “keep up with the Joneses”
- Create a safe space where your children can experience technology, but also feel comfortable enough to come talk to you, shame-free, if they see something inappropriate; create a “judgement free zone”
- Only use their device in the presence of an adult
- No technology when parents aren’t home (not with a babysitter, grandparents or a friend’s house)
- Set a timer
- specific times they can use their device
- an allotted time for the week and they decide how to divide it up
- Charge their devices in a communal area
- No devices at dinner
- No devices in their room
- No internet apps
- Technology only after reading, homework, chores, etc.
- Give your devices a curfew
- Youtube only in the presence of an adult
- Technology only allowed in public spaces (family room), but not private (bedroom)
- Have “family” devices like one iPad everyone shares rather than each person has their own device
- Only use technology (gaming devices, etc.) on the weekend
- Only allow technology (iPads, etc) when traveling
- No iPads/game consoles on school days
This was a lot of information, but I found it super helpful and I hope you do too!!