No matter how hard they try, parents can’t avoid it: Technology is everywhere these days. Raising a child in 2020 means navigating the world of tech with your child, and it can be difficult to know what the right balance is.
No parent wants to leave his kids in the dark, but too much screen time can do more harm than good.
Plenty of children are naturally interested in technology, so getting them tech-savvy isn’t the hard part: The issue is knowing how much is too much. There’s no one right answer to this — every family and every child is different — but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some good rules of thumb to follow.
Every parent wants to do what’s best for his kids, but the breakneck speed at which technology develops can make that a real challenge. Here are a few guidelines that can help anyone navigate that difficult world:
1. Start slow.
When introducing technology into your child’s life, it’s all about pacing. Overwhelming your children with high-level tech early on can cause them to get lost in the endless features without ever really getting a grasp on what they should be doing. In other words, a kid’s first phone shouldn’t be a smartphone.
Kid-friendly phone network Gabb Wireless suggests the idea of a technology roadmap that lays out a plan for what devices your child should be using at what ages. When making your roadmap, be sure to consider the factors that go into how a child experiences technology: interface, privacy, security, ease of monitoring, and so on. Kids should graduate from each portion of the roadmap into a new portion that allows for more freedom — without letting it all out at once.
2. Be intentional.
Dr. Jenny Radesky, a child technology expert at the University of Michigan, thinks of tech as a digital environment, one where any child can do a seemingly infinite number of different things when given the option. Encouraging idle or careless use of technology will cause kids to stop seeing the potential in this environment, instead turning it into a crutch.
When your child engages in screen time, always ask what she’s doing or going to do. Encourage concrete activities, like playing an educational game or calling a friend instead of mindless browsing. Making kids’ time with screens task-oriented can teach them what technology is capable of without letting them get lost in it.
3. Be a good screen user yourself.
Parents may be hypervigilant about their children’s time on devices, but as usage-limiting app Screen Time notes, noticing screen time is a two-way street. Kids are always learning from you, and the way you handle technology will have a huge impact on how they handle it as well.
All of those device-based time controls you’re implementing for your kid? Consider using them yourself. Allow your children to see you set timers for your own usage, and always be prepared to answer questions about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
Try to follow any rules you make for them yourself, or make a modified version — it’s valuable for kids to know that you’re in this together.
4. Set clear boundaries.
Kids value fairness, so it’s important to make your rules about screen time clear and easy to follow. Device safety firm Securly recommends writing up a technology contract with your child that sets guidelines for what devices can be used, how, and how long.
Setting clear boundaries doesn’t mean you have to be fully inflexible about them over time. As kids grow older, they’re better equipped to deal with the responsibilities of screen time, and your technology contract should reflect that. Consider including a schedule that changes every few months or every year, incorporating more time and device access along with it.
5. Find communal screen activities.
More often than not, technology is seen as something that replaces traditional play or human interaction. Used poorly, this is absolutely the case — but modern parents know they can do better than that.
Find out what your child likes to do with her screen time, and think of ways that you can do those things together. Whether it’s playing video games or watching YouTube videos, enjoying screen time together can give your kids a handle on the technology they’re using without turning it into a world totally separate from their daily life.
It’s easy to see screens as a hindrance to raising your children well, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Technology, utilized correctly, can prepare your children for the real world while allowing you valuable family time — you just need to find the right balance.