My friend Sarah recently wrote:
“I’m wondering if you would mind sharing with me your family policies on electronics for your teens – cell phones, iPads, tablets, computers, etc… We’ve really been struggling with this issue lately, and I decided to start polling some of the moms I know!”
She continues, “I know there’s no easy answer to the question of technology for teens – although I’m starting to think the Amish have it right. Haha. But with our oldest turning 13 and all the kids clamoring for various screens, it’s time for us to set some serious.. guidelines.. so I’d appreciate any experience you could share!”
It’s seems one of the greatest challenges of parenthood these days: When? What? Why? Where? And How?- to give, use, and monitor electronic devices, phones & other online and internet opportunities in your family.
It’s especially crazy for most of us to navigate parenting in a world of flourishing technology we didn’t grow up in, yes?! (aka: those of us with teenagers right now!) Our children’s school gives the students iPads in 8th grade (soon to be younger) and it seems by 7th grade a phone is almost a necessity- so many extracurricular activities going on – though my 3rd and 5th graders tell me everyone in the class has an iphone.
Many of us have computers & laptops & iphones & iPads & surfaces & droids & kindles, etc, around the house for anyone’s use and of course, the little ones are drawn in from age 3 months or younger now! I found my sweet brother comforting my little Sarah one night when she was sooo tiny with the YouTube channel Super Simple Songs “snowflake, snowflake, little snowflake…” We’ve loved the channel ever since & I use the songs on it from time to time to keep tired 2 year-olds happy while I make dinner nearby them.
I’m sure many, if not most of you, are in the same boat with awesome devices and electronics, interconnected and online opportunities swirling all around you and of course, AT THE TOP of your child’s wish list from last Christmas to the next birthday! This year our 10-year-old has been asking, almost begging, for an iPad-mini because she says every child in her class carries a smart phone or something similar. She says during inside recess every person in the class is playing on their electronics while she sits and reads a book. (Hee hee- something about that picture makes me happy, not sad, though.). And of course, her friends are nice, and some have 2 devices, so they let her borrow one to play games on. (I was surprised when she rescinded her wish for this device though after she heard a teenager at church talk about all the responsibility it is to have an Ipad! I thought that was impressively mature of her to listen so well! lol!)
So this dilemma my friend Sarah mentioned is very much alive in our home, as I’m sure it is in yours.
I keep reminding my children, ‘greater freedom via greater devices = greater responsibility!’
Are our children ready for the heavy load of responsibility that comes with the added freedom of smartphones and iPads and other such devices??
I still recall Linda and Richard Eyre’s’ analogy that greater knowledge (sexual education they were referring to) can be compared to luggage. Would we ever require that our young children lug heavy suitcases through the airports as we approach a family adventure? The answer is no, of course, because they are not mature enough to bear that load. We’ve been through airports enough for me to really get this analogy! Mike and I give our children what is appropriate for them to carry at their age. Age 2 & under get no load. Age 8 & under get a light backpack full of activities to help them on their journey. Age 8-12 year olds carry a backpack and help with lighter luggage that rolls. 12& up help with their own suitcase and from that point, according to what they can handle, help with the younger children’s loads also. Each year they are older they tend to take on a little more responsibility, according to what they seem capable of handling. If we would not load our children down with too much luggage at a young age because it would be to their suffering, why would we weigh them down with more expensive equipment or online freedom than they are prepared to responsibly handle? Would that not be to their even greater detriment & hindered development?
I know from education and experience that children need fresh air, sunlight, rest, strong relationships, various hands-on learning experiences, and physical ways to express creativity; they need to learn how to use and appreciate their amazing bodies and minds, and let their abilities to make a difference grow; they need a lot of eye-gazing into another human beings eyes, and interchange with people in person; they need to learn how to work physically as well as mentally by everyday practice, they need to have fun as well as find how to have self-control be their best friend, they need to learn that they are needed and that their contribution is valuable, etc... So this question has become a good measure for me and my family when it comes to device-usage as a family, “Does the time you spend using various technologies and media enlarge or restrict your capacity to live, to love, and to serve in meaningful ways?” (Elder David A. Bednar)
We are constantly teaching our children personal responsibility and accountability when it comes to life in general but specifically these days when it comes to the amazing new technological equipment they have at their fingertips. It is up to THEM to have internal control when it comes to being engaged online or in any activity. But it is up to my husband and I to TEACH them, WARN them, GUARD them, and HELP and SUPPORT them as they grow in their abilities. It is THEIR life and it is their OWN choices and responses which will determine their OWN happiness, now and in the future. But Michael & I make it clear we love them enough to do all we can to help them do what will bring them the most success and happiness in their lives. They know we strive to support them in their responsibilities, blessings and (sometimes heavy) stewardships.
Here are some things we do in our home to help fortify our children. PLEASE SHARE YOUR IDEAS BELOW in the comments!
– We expect our children’s devices to be plugged in to charge downstairs (away from bedrooms) by 8 pm (sometimes it is closer to 9pm). We have asked the children to please use Ipads only in the main living areas of the house like kitchen and family room. Once in a while they ask permission to take them upstairs to listen to music while we/they are cleaning or a finishing a big project.
– The children’s Ipads are currently set so that Mom and Dad have the password for adding or changing apps. This gives us a chance to know and discuss together what apps are added and why. My sister and her family wisely have a password for internet use, so Mom and Dad can help monitor how much time is spent online and which sights are visited.
– It is a given that Mom and Dad, as loving parents that have stewardship to care for them and help them reach their fullest potential, the ones who provided the device in the first place, can peek in and peruse any device at any time to see what’s going on there.
– We have put some controls, or censors, on our computers but my favorite is “Safenetplus” (which was created by Grandpa and can be ordered by emailing email@example.com). This program enables me to see everything that has been looked at on a computer in a matter of seconds. It tells you exactly when it was looked at and for how long.
– If ‘it’ is too much for them to handle (meaning life is getting a little out of balance maybe or a device is holding them back, not helping them) we love them enough to take ‘it’ away until they are ready to handle it (whether ‘it’ is a leap-pad, gameboy, ninetendo, cell phone, laptop, iPod or iPad, etc…). In fact our then 13 year old daughter soo sweetly handed over her phone on her own accord last year feeling like she couldn’t handle the burden of it at that time.
– We try to teach by example and enforcement that gaming, you-tubing, etc is fun but not the purpose of life. Most days are busy and full, with not much time for those things. The children know what is expected when they get home from school: homework, piano practicing, and a chore or two completed, then time for fun, but there are also family/school/church activities most evenings- doesn’t leave too much room for gaming. But it is sure fun when we get a little chance for rejuvenation! A family round a ‘mario kart’ is great!
– With little ones under school age at home, I personally try to teach them the habit it of “work-time, play time, tv-time, computer time”. We do work and chores in the morning, after lunch I let them watch a show or two if they request it. We turn it off afterwards to encourage the habit of ‘turning it off’, to establish the precedence that it doesn’t just run all day long. Computer-time can be treated similarly. Playing on the computer for a given period of time is great, but then we go get some exercise by playing outdoors, or head upstairs to play some imagination games that encourage social, mental, and language skills, or read books for a while. A balance. I’ve recently found this balance needed to be enforced again with a couple of my children. Now I ask for chore and instrument practiced BEFORE access to the Ipad is given after school, otherwise other things don’t seem to get done in the name of ‘homework on the Ipad’.
– As I said, a known rule in our home is that any device at anytime can be taken away or turned off by Mom or Dad if it seems to be taking away from the happiness of our children or our home. (That includes any arguments that crop up over the wii- thankfully not too often right now.)
– One more important routine is ‘talk-time’ with Mom or Dad. Mike especially strives to set aside time now and then to privately interview the children, ask about their life and show his interest in it. He hopes giving them time and space to talk, asking them about their life and the details of it will encourage them to share their troubles or worries or challenges in life. He’s strengthened and fortified our children powerfully in this way.
We, along with Sarah and Pam (thanks for requesting this Pam) and many other parents, would LOVE MORE suggestions from you about good ways we can strengthen and fortify children when it comes to this very exciting world of technology!! Please comment and share below.
Sincerely, The Hoffman Crew
CHALLENGE OF THE WEEK: apply one new healthy way to monitor your child’s devices!
My favorite read of the week: “Research has consistently shown that the earlier and more consistently positive parenting is provided, the greater the child’s development…. Authoritative or positive parenting: a parental style that seeks balance between helping children make good choices and offering guidance and discipline. It respects the child’s self-will but balances it with disciplined conformity. Positive parenting requires frequent eye contact, use of positive affirmations rather than criticism, seeking to understand the child, and responding immediately. As a result of this style, children often develop into happy, self-confident, capable, and successful adults.“