Tech Tips for the New Year

   It is almost the new year and if you house is like mine, Santa has come and gone but not without leaving a few new devices under the tree. The start of the new year is typically when we set resolutions of things we want to improve or work on. This is the perfect time to start fresh and establish rules and boundaries around technology or re-evaluate the ones you already have. Sometimes we forget that with a new device comes a lot of freedom and responsibility but we need to set our children up for success and the best way to do this is by establishing some parameters and not just for them but with them. So, whether they received a cell phone, new gaming console or an iPad, here are some tech tips for the new year:


ROAD MAP: We would never give a child a car without teaching them how to drive. Technology is very much the same before our children are given these all-powerful, super expensive devices they need a road map from us as the parents about what they can do, for how long and appropriate behavior as it relates to the device. There is no better time to give them that then either before or right after they get the device. It is much harder to reign in behavior than it is establish limits or boundaries ahead of time. In our house, after much debate we finally relented and bought our 10-year-old an Xbox gaming console. Before the box was even opened we had a conversation with him to set up some guidelines. First, we asked him to come up with some guidelines he thought were fair and then we shared ours and came to agreement that included such things as no gaming during the week, no gaming unless there has been outside time or physical activity and no connecting with strangers while playing.


FAMILY BUY IN: In so many families- ours included most of the conflict or push back these days is around devices and technology. Everyone always wants a little more screen time. I don’t think there is a magic formula to make this completely disappear but I do know a sure way to reduce the tension is to have regular family meetings. This can be a great time to work together to come up with some rules that everyone can agree on. Common Sense Media has a family contract on their website which is a perfect place to start. You can tailor it so that the agreement is realistic and makes sense for your family. Once everyone agrees you can all sign and agree to abide by it and then place it in a visible place as a reminder to everyone. No matter what age your child is if they feel they have a voice and are a part of the process there is a lot more buy in. With the understanding that some points will be non-negotiable.


SAFETY FIRST: Since so many devices come with internet access or the ability to chat or message with strangers it is of the utmost importance that before using the technology they understand what it means to be safe online. This includes both their physical and emotional safety. These conversations can happen from a very young age in an age appropriate way and revolve around parent controls, privacy settings and blocking content. As your child gets older and their access increases the conversations will shift. In terms of physical safety, your child should know not to share passwords with anyone else besides parents, not to share pictures or personal information with strangers, and to turn off geo locators on any apps they are using. Emotional safety is a bit different but equally as important. This can relate to comments they post, reminding them that everything can be screen shotted and shared, and if something does go wrong knowing who they can turn to for help. Every child should know and feel comfortable coming to a parent, teacher or other close adult if something they see online doesn’t feel right.


   As a parent who didn’t grow up with all this technology this is a whole new world. However, as parents we need to try to understand how our children will navigate their childhood years with this new added influence of technology. I think most of us would agree that in so many ways technology has made our lives so much easier but the flip side to that is that parenting a kid today is so much harder than it used to be. As parents the best gift we can give our kids doesn’t come with an on/off button but rather our involvement and awareness of their digital world. This doesn’t mean just setting the rules and guidelines but engaging in their world so maybe in the new year ask your child to teach you how to play their favorite video game or show you the videos they are interested in on YouTube. Doing this and following the tech tips mentioned above may make for a more peaceful home in the new year. 

Liz Farrell