9 compelling questions to ask yourself before the technology conversation with your child
My work includes going to schools and working with students, parents, faculty and administration on a host of topics including decision making. Recently, a group of parents asked me to create a program for students on technology use. In our conversations, I realized this was about digital decision making concerns for parents. For the students, the role of a device is irrelevant in other words, making decisions in person or in pixels require the same process of thought. That said, I don’t think I am alone in feeling somewhat overwhelmed when tasked with talking to my children about best uses of technology because most of us weren’t exposed to the volume of information, devices, apps, games and social opportunities our kids are exposed to. This is made even more daunting when we consider that many of our kids know far more than we do about the devices available to them. It’s important to remember, while many of us think of devices as a new part of our lives they are not new for kids who are growing up seeing them as tools for communication, studying, entertainment and social connection. Feeling unprepared for these conversations we may want to avoid them, however these conversations can be manageable, I invite you to consider that talking about appropriate technology use is no different than many other conversations you have had over the years. Try replacing words such as “passwords”, “social media” and “technology” with those more familiar to you such as “lock”, “billboard” and “doors”.
- Would you allow your child to put a lock on his/her door? If so, would you allow him/her to have the only key? If you had a copy of the key would you talk with your child about when and why you would enter the room?
As children grow, it is important to give them opportunities to learn necessary lessons and to have success moments building positive patterns of behavior. Try thinking of the key to the room when discussing passwords. Setting up parameters for when, and how you will use the passwords to access your child’s digital footprint (the sites visited, games played and social media resources) supports a conversation providing choices for both of you. For example, you might use the password for checking text histories but agree you will not check texts without telling your child ahead of time and in return your child will not delete texts without talking with you.
- When are devices allowed to be used in the house?
Devices bring opportunities for broader connections, support with organization and new ways to connect with each other. We have some hard and fast rules in our house including no devices at the table. But I have also found that sometimes it is more comfortable for both of us, if I text my son that I want to have a discussion, give him the topic and then find a mutually convenient time. This approach gives us both “think time”. I also love being able to send videos, pictures, cartoons, etc. via email as means for being connect. Most of all though, I love the calendaring system, in fact the joke in our house is “Mom, are you going to put that (about any and everything) on google calendar?” Truth is, I probably overuse the calendar but it has cut down on the nitpicking of ensuring they know who is picking them up at what time and what is needed.
- Would you sign your child up for a trip to another country without hearing the agenda, learning about the activities, finding out the costs?
Try thinking of the web as a country unfamiliar to your family. Spend time finding out about the places your child wants to go on the internet, learn about the social media sites and explain the costs of poor decision making in the digital world. It’s just as important to highlight the opportunities available such as self-publishing, enhancing projects, keeping in touch with friends and family.
- When your child is going to a friend’s house do you remind him/her of the rules of behavior? Are those rules different for each house he/she visits or do you expect your child to represent your family’s values in all settings?
If you talk with your child about values and behavioral expectations when visiting others, then you probably expect these to be represented in all settings of your child’s life. The same is true of social interactions in the digital world. For example, we would not want our children to expose parts of his body in public and therefore would not want him to do so on the Internet. We want our children to handle conflicts in a productive manner and therefore expect the same when on-line. For many kids on-line interactions often feel safer than in person interactions. However, we need to communicate that every digital interaction can be saved and sent to others and that there are also legal consequences for some on-line mistakes. Communicating consistent values across all of your child’s environments establishes your values matter, no matter what your child is doing or where they are situated. One of the advantages of technology is it gives a new avenue for communication between you and your child. Sometimes, talking in person is uncomfortable, but if they are willing to text you may find your child more willing to let you know what is going on.
- If your child were given billboard space on every major highway in the world, would you allow him/her to put personal and contact information on it?
If you answered ‘no’ then it will be important to discuss establishing privacy settings on all social media and interactive websites (including games). Many of us are aware of privacy settings on social media sites yet it is easy to overlook gaming sites, chat sites and ‘push sites’ (those requesting your information to send updates on topics/stories of interest).
- If your child won a car on a game show would you allow her/him to drive it without driving lessons or a license?
Teens who are learning to drive are required to take driving lessons, drive with a licensed driver for a set number of hours and then after getting a license may only have other kids in the car if they are siblings. When our kids were younger, we didn’t let them cross the streets on their own and when they become teenagers, we didn’t let them have the keys to the car just because we have a car in the driveway, the same should be true of the “the information highway” (Internet). Some suggestions are:
– Sit with your child as she/he sets-up social media presence, establishing rules on where she/he can be visible and to whom. Ensure you are on your child’s social media sites. Note: Most social media sites do not allow children under the age of 13 to participate, giving your child underage child permission to do so before 13 may send a mixed message.
– Visit sites of interest (such as gaming sites) to see if interaction with others is necessary or are the sites oriented toward individual users? If interaction is necessary, set-up the profile and settings together.
– Walk through several academic assignments with your child, assisting with website choices for accurate sources
– Show your child how to block ‘pop-up windows’ so when they are working they focus on the subject at hand and not texting or chatting (unless school related).
- Would you like your child to get information on topics such as sex, mental health and drugs from someone you didn’t know or a resource you didn’t trust before getting it from you?
Kids hear things from friends, television and lyrics and are curious about its veracity. The more tantalizing the topic, the more curious they become. Even if you and your child are not ready for discussions on bigger topics, it is important to outline that you are available when questions arise and that he/she will hear of things about which they are curious and should come to you prior to seeking information on the Internet. Letting kids know that the accuracy of information on the internet is dependent on its source will aid you in this area.
- Do you allow your child to go to school, earn grades, receive report cards and never look at them? Do you allow your child to go to concerts, friend’s houses and never check in?
Most of us check on schoolwork, attend parent/teacher conferences and even when we are not able to be at school regularly, have a sense of how our child is doing. We have to give permission for our child to go home with another family when leaving school. The same should be true of the Internet. Check-in frequently, look at sites before your child does and search browse histories.
- Do you want your child to be independent and to eventually live on his/her own?
We cannot navigate the digital world for our child any more than we can navigate the physical world. Our task is to raise independent adults who are able to make sound decisions, learn from mistakes and, when needed, to ask for help from reliable sources. Applying the same rules for digital exploration as we do for all other aspects of parenting provides consistency, one of the foundations of strong parenting.
As with all areas of your child’s life, it is important to let them know you are available, you care and you want to be of help. Create an agreement for when and how to involve you when there is a concern.