I don’t often (actually, never) make comments or tips on parenting. As a parent of four, I know that the job is hard, insanely complex – we’re dealing with little humans here – and often unnoticed. Having said that, as someone who works with teenagers in high school I’ve been coming across more and more disengaged and tired students and, increasingly, parents who are asking for help. So, here are some of my non-negotiable parent-tech-tips.
Phone free zones.
The smart-phone (and other ‘smart’ devices) are really an amazing invention. They help me organise my day, keep in touch with work and friends, fill my rare spare time, play my music… You get the idea. My phone goes with me almost everywhere. There are a few places that mobile phones just shouldn’t be though: the dinner table, the bedroom and the car.
The dinner table is one of those places where conversations just seem to happen – that is unless your face is glued to your phone. Studies are showing that even just the presence of a mobile at the table is making people feel less connected. This one is not just for kids – mums and dads, we can (and should) put it down and find out what’s going on in our family’s life.
The bedroom really is all about sleeping – and mobile phones do their best at destroying that. The bedroom needs to be a ‘no-net’ zone. Being connected at all times is actually not a good thing. Kids need to sleep – not getting enough sleep affects reduced school performance, weight and wellbeing. They find it incredibly difficult to do so when the ‘ding’ of an incoming message resounds in the night and the dark is driven away by a suddenly incandescent phone screen. The urge to read and respond is quite severe and once that happens, it takes a minimum of 15 minutes to go quiet again. Additionally, science has come out with the fact that the blue light coming from your phone, computer, iPad etc disrupts sleep. Put the phone on silent and on its charger in a living area – undisturbed sleep and an always charged phone.
If they are using their device for an alarm clock, buy them a brand new alarm clock with battery backup from your local grocery store. I saw one at our local Coles for only $10.
BTW (by the way): this is also a great tip for parents.
The car is one of those last bastions of a great chat and fun times with the family. Obviously if you’re driving the phone is a great big ‘no-no’ (and comes with a hefty fine!), but perhaps they should be outlawed for the passengers as well. Again, it comes down to having those conversations that count, which show the love and allow the deep chat to happen. Stow that phone and use the travel time to get to know one another again.
Have set hours.
While it might seem like we always need to be on our devices, the truth is that we don’t. It’s important for our kids to have some time away from their devices and experience life outside a room.
Set screen time for each day – but be realistic. As students get older they will require increasing amounts of time on their devices for study, homework and assessment. Having an online social life is also important, otherwise we can’t train our kids in how to use it responsibly. Stick to your screen time limits. Suggest that work needs to be done before they use their device for social activities.
Keeping track of this is a lot easier if the device is not in the bedroom as well. Having the device in an area that is visible when easily walking past means that you can monitor their electronic habits as well as providing you the opportunity to be involved in their online world.
Use Family Safety settings
It’s a little known fact, but all the major Operating Systems for computers including Windows 10, MacOS have family settings built right into them. Using them properly takes some setting up, but once that’s done a parent can automatically monitor what the computer is being used for, for how long, what is installed and provides the ability to block and limit all of these.
Some guides for the major OSes:
- How To Geek has a great tutorial with images: https://www.howtogeek.com/225323/how-to-add-and-monitor-a-childs-account-in-windows-10/
- Microsoft’s official guide (no pictures): https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/17199/windows-10-set-up-your-family
- MacWorld has a fairly in-depth tutorial with images: http://www.macworld.co.uk/how-to/mac-software/how-set-up-parental-controls-on-mac-child-safety-tips-for-macos-sierra-3534770/
- Apple’s official guide (no images): https://support.apple.com/kb/PH25799?locale=en_GB
iPads, iPhones and Android devices:
Unfortunately, while these devices are all-pervasive, they’re not as easy to manage. Fortunately, there are some things that we as parents can do to keeps our kids on track and on task.
- iPads/iPhones: MacWorld has a reasonably thorough guide (with images): http://www.macworld.co.uk/how-to/iosapps/how-set-up-ipad-iphone-parental-controls-stop-kids-buying-apps-iaps-3460275/
- Android tablets and phones: http://www.androidcentral.com/setting-kid-friendly-android-device
Be the parent
The idea of the ‘digital-native’ is not an accurate one. While our kids were born into a world filled with digital devices, they aren’t born knowing how to use them responsibly. This needs to be taught. While schools do what they can, what happens at home has a much more significant impact upon their view and use of technology. It is up to us as parents to teach our kids to use it appropriately, responsibly and for good. This means that sometimes we will need to stand firm and take the hard-line. It also means that we need to model appropriate behaviour and use. Will this hurt? Sometimes it will. If a student has become used to ‘living’ with their devices always on them, it will take time to adjust – and I don’t know many teens and their younger brethren (or older parents!) who will do so without an argument. Stand firm. Act in the best interest of you child and yourself. The outcome will make the momentary pain worth it in the end.
Remember, being involved in your child’s online world makes it easier and more effective. Also – modeling the behaviours you want your child to have will show that it’s not just talk.
There are plenty of sources out there for helping parents deal with the wild frontier that is our digital world. These are some of my favourites – and they’re all good!
Australia’s Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner has put together iParent – an online portal of great resources for parents, aimed especially for our Aussie kids. https://www.esafety.gov.au/education-resources/iparent
Their main site has even more resources – including for schools and students. Definitely worth taking a look around. https://www.esafety.gov.au/
CommonSenseMedia is a fantastic site which has an amazing amount of interesting and helpful advice for parents. It also features reviews of apps, films etc as well as providing curriculum for schools (US focussed). This is my go to site for Responsible Use of Technology. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/