We don’t need the media to tell us that our kids are the most connected generation ever. It’s obvious. Youngsters and teens seem to constantly be attached to technology, often using several devices simultaneously. They never knew life before the internet … in fact, they never even knew what it was like to wait for a dial-up connection. They adopt new devices and use new applications with no hesitation or trouble.
At a recent world conference for counselors we were told that we are the most connected generation of all time – but sadly, also the most isolated. The more attention we focus on our electronics, the less time we have for the people around us. And, as electronic communications and activities become the norm, the more we resist face-to-face communication. Think about the times you’ve been sitting in a local restaurant and seen couples at nearby tables so focused on their phones that they don’t talk.
Another danger with technology and kids is that it gives them access to a world they don’t fully understand and aren’t really able to handle. There’s plenty of inappropriate content, whether that’s pornography or violent imagery, and kids’ curiosity often overpowers their consciences or developmental capabilities. In fact, several of the smartphone apps that are popular today were designed expressly to help the younger set hide their behavior from parents.
And if you’re confident that your kids are immune to peer pressure and would never deceive you about their online activities, think again. Testing the boundaries is normal behavior for kids and teens — just think of the things you did that your parents never knew about. It doesn’t mean that they’re “bad” kids … they’re just trying to find their own feet in a world that’s all too happy to lead them astray, far from the values you hold dear.
So how can you keep technology from consuming your kids? First, lead by example. Don’t let technology consume you. When a mom expresses worries that her daughter spends too much time with technology, and it’s clear that she’s also unable to ignore her phone for more than a couple of minutes, it’s easy to spot the root of the problem. As with so many other aspects of parenting, you need to model the behavior you want to see, because kids learn more from what you do than what you say. If Mom and Dad can’t disconnect from technology, trust us, their kids won’t, either.
Second, it’s okay to set limits. You probably don’t let your kids watch TV at midnight on a school night. They shouldn’t be on their phones that late, either. Set a time when they need to walk away from devices — we recommend at least an hour before bedtime — and have a central, highly visible place where they leave those devices to charge overnight.
Third, don’t let them keep secrets. As a parent, you have a right to look through their devices at any time, and you should do so regularly. Review their browser history, make sure they share their passwords, and if you see any new or unfamiliar apps, investigate. The purpose of regular checking isn’t necessarily to catch them doing something wrong — it’s to act as a deterrent, so when one of their friends tries to talk them into downloading the newest “secret” app, they’ll say, “I can’t do that, because my mom looks at my phone and she’ll see it.”
Finally, remember that technology is a privilege. No matter how much kids and teens protest, they don’t have a right to use technology in your home. You grant them the privilege to use it, and you can limit or take away that privilege anytime you want.
Does this all sound too difficult? Has your relationship with your children or teens shifted to the point where you no longer feel like you can be in charge? We’ll be happy to help you restore a better balance to your relationship. Why not set a time to sit down with one of our professional counselors and discuss strategies for protecting your kids?