With a new school year in session, quite a few things have changed in our household. My oldest is officially in middle school. Even more shocking he’ll officially be a teenager in just a few short weeks (OMG!). And with all these changes has come the need to constantly be connected.
Now don’t get me wrong. I totally understand because while he thinks I’m as old as the hills, I was a teenager myself not too horribly long ago. I remember wanting to chat with friends. To hear the latest and greatest. But the biggest difference was that my connections could never escape the watchful eyes of my parents. With phones that were attached to walls, cords that were stretched to the point of breaking in the effort to get a little privacy and the occasional written note passed between classes, life was so much more sheltered. Heck I thought I had hit it big time when I was allowed to get a pager my senior year where friends could send me a set of numbers.
But with my son, things are different. Yes, he has a smartphone. And a tablet. They are actually necessary for more than just staying connected. They are a way for him to check assignments, email teachers and yes, stay in contact with friends. And while I’ve come to accept that being connected in a different way than I was as a teenager is just an essential part of his life, it’s left me with quite a few high-tech worries.
You see, while this new online world has opened up endless possibilities for him to learn, connect and grow, it’s also opened up the need to talk smarter and set ground rules. I mean, let’s face it, technology – while great – can also be dangerous. It gives kids access to more than ever before and if not used correctly, it can have the opposite of the intended effect and harm rather than help. So what’s a mom to do? With most children receiving their first smartphone between the ages of 8 and 12, it’s time to take technology seriously and have some smart talk about what is OK and what’s not.
Put Time Limits on Tech: I’ll be the first to admit that it’s easy to spend tons of time online. What starts with a search for an assigned topic can quickly turn into a leap frog effect from site to site. And while I’m not against screen time, I think it’s essential to put limits on it. With 92 percent of teens reporting that they go online daily and 24 percent of those teens admitting that they are online almost constantly, we set a strict time limit policy in our household. Our son has a certain amount of time for “school related” online time and for “social related” online time and he know he needs to spend it wisely because when it’s over, devices are gone for the day.
Know What Your Kids Are Looking At: Even with limiting a kid’s time online, it’s essential to know what they are looking at while they are online. Don’t be afraid to go to their browsing history. Be vigilant about the sites they search. Even if they end up on something inappropriate by mistake, sit them down and explain why that is not allowed and what the consequences will be if you find they have returned to sites that are off limits. By setting strict guidelines and letting your child know you will be enforcing them, they are more likely to stay on point with their online time.
Say No to Unknown Passwords: This is pretty much a given but I’m always amazed by parents asking their kids for unknown passwords. Let me say this clearly…if your child has a password protected device and you don’t have the password, you’re on dangerous ground. After all, it they are feeling the need to hide passwords from you, chances are there are things on their devices that they know you would not approve of.
Create a Written Contract: While all the rules above are great, verbal agreements leave quite a bit to be desired. Not surprisingly, 79 percent of families have technology agreements with their children. Shockingly, only about 6 percent of those agreements are written out. When it comes to your child’s time spent online, rules need to be clear and they need to be written out so that there is no grey area and no room for (teenage) interpretation. Thankfully, LifeLock knows that managing kids and their time online can be a challenge so they have partnered with the National PTA to help give parents the tools they need to talk to their children about online rules and make a complex discussion easier.
Through an amazing new free resource for families, you can now have a clear, guided conversation with your child about technology and even print out rules together. This resource walks you through every aspect of your child’s online life and sets boundries and lays out rules.
I’ll say that even with the amount of time I spend online, I would have missed some essential areas that LifeLock has covered. With the comprehensive discussion guide called The Smart Talk, families are empowered to make smarter, safer choices when it comes to their child’s time online to help build a generation of young adults who use technology appropriately and in a healthy way.
Whether you’re like me and have a child who’s ready to jump head first into the digital world or if your child has just started asking about a smartphone and being online more, now is the time to sit down with them and set the ground rules. Use The Smart Talk to interact and walk with your child through a series of questions and conversations about safety and privacy, screen time, social media, apps and downloads, texting and calling, reputations and respect and even online videos and cameras. The Smart Talk only takes about fifteen minutes to do with your child and at the end you can print of an agreement that you have created together to ensure that the rules of time online in your home leave no grey area.
So what are you waiting for? It’s a digital world that our kids are living in. And it’s our job as parents to take simple steps to ensure that they stay safe while making the most of it. Start today by making a change. Visit The Smart Talk site to check out the online safety resources and create your own personalized family contract to encourage healthy digital habits.
Then tell me, what are your rules when it comes to your child’s time online?
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.