We’re well into the countdown to Christmas. Santa’s elves need help, so you may have asked your children to create a holiday wish list. If your kids are like mine, there’s at least one technology gadget on their list this year. My 8-year-old wants a new iPod, my 12-year-old a new Xbox, and my 13-year-old an iPhone 5. Whatever the gadget, if it connects to the Internet, there are five things you need to do before giving it to your child. These precautionary steps are key to making sure your child has a healthy, happy, safe, and age-appropriate experience with their new digital device.
1. Talk to your child.
Regardless of their age, it’s important that your children understand your ground rules for technology use. Technology isn’t a right. It’s a privilege – albeit a fun and educational one. Conversely, there are many concerning aspects to the use of technology that pleads for parental involvement and oversight.
If you have room in your budget to purchase the specific gadget that your child wants, let them know that you want them to experience all the great benefits that it has to offer. Also let your child know that there are rules they will need to follow if they want that gadget, and that you expect them to follow those rules without any exceptions.
Once you’ve established a comfortable dialogue related to their technology use, continue the conversation on a regular basis. It’s critical that your children confide in you when they have questions about safe tech etiquette or – worst case scenario – a really concerning issue. Soon they’ll realize while you may not be an expert, you care about their safety and you’re fully aware of the fact that there’s much to be gained with new technology when used responsibly.
2. Steer your child in a different direction, if necessary.
I told my 8-year-old daughter, who’s an avid reader, that I’d much rather see her reading than spending time with an iPod playing games. (That’s why she wants one.) I showed her some alternatives that better cater to her interests, such as Amazon’s Kindle and the Nook by Barnes & Noble, or the new tablet from Toys R Us. While Santa’s final selection is still undecided, she had no idea that tablets like these could hold hundreds of her favorite books and games too!
3. Consider waiting another year before you jump in too far.
Recognize that a smartphone is the exact same thing as putting a computer in the palm of your child’s hand, minus all the safeguards and filters you have on your home computer. Four out of five of my children have their own cell phone. Each of them had to wait until they were 12 to get their first phone, and you can bet we didn’t start with smartphones. I wanted each of them to first prove, for a year, they could follow our family’s technology rules. A year later they were able to graduate to a safety-enabled smartphone that came with limitations. Most of the major cell phone providers have similar family safety plans:
These parental control tools made it easy for me to put the same types of safety filters and restrictions that exist on our home computer on their smartphone, allowing my children to follow our family rules more easily.
4. Get buy-in from your child before you gift the digital device.
My son, who wants an iPhone 5 for Christmas, knows that his phone will be safety enabled. That means Safari will be replaced with the AVG Family Safety browser, restrictions will be set related to this age on apps, music and video.
My son also wants an Instagram account to which I’ve said no. We talked about my specific concerns after he read the research related to the app. While he understands the reasons for my apprehension, he isn’t happy with my decision. He still hasn’t committed to putting the phone on his final “wish list” since it won’t come with everything he’d like. So Santa’s giving him another couple weeks to decide, since his buy-in is key.
5. Safety-enable any gadget that you give your child before it’s wrapped.
These links provide you with step-by-step picture instructions that show you how to safety enable an:
- Windows-based computer or laptop
- Mac-based computer or laptop
- Nintendo Wii
- Xbox 360
There are lots of age-appropriate apps and games that you can set up on your child’s new digital device. The bottom line is: Don’t lose sleep over technology. Responsible parenting these days demands being digitally involved, digitally educated, digitally aware and digitally proactive.
Exercising these simple steps will help you become that kind of parent!
What other tips do you have for keeping your kids safe with new technology and gadgets? Share with us below.