Technology is everywhere now, in our homes, in our pockets, and perhaps worryingly for many parents, in our children’s hands.
Every family is different, and will have their own ideas around what’s considered ‘normal’ or acceptable use of our beloved devices, which means there’s no universal answer.
However, there are some suggestions that can help you build some rules of your own and bring some order to the way your children use digital devices at home.
Before we help our young people, it’s best to look at our own digital habits to make sure we are providing them with what they need – that is, leading by example and being balanced role models who know when to use and when not to use their devices.
1. Know what the rules and expectations are at school
School digital device policies make a great starting point for families. Every school is different – some let students keep mobile phones in lockers or backpacks, while others allow limited mobile phone usage between classes or even during class time to aid with assignments. Make sure that you and your child know what the rules are at school. Importantly, support the school and keep your own expectations in line with theirs.
2. Specify hours for digital use
Set the ground rules for when your youngsters can use their tablets and phones, and when they need to shut them off for the night. It’s just a smart way to build a habit for the whole family so it becomes ingrained and just the way things are done in your home. Keep in mind that this age group faces tremendous peer pressure to be online 24/7, and even though they’d never admit it, it might be helpful for them to have an acceptable ‘way out’ from their demanding digital life.
3. Consider a digital device ‘contract’
Mobile phone ‘contracts’ were popular with parents a few years back and they are still a smart way to go. Clearly set out your digital device usage guidelines, and print them in an agreement that you and your young one can both sign. If there are any disputes, then you both have the expectations in writing. This digital technology guideline maybe a little too formal for many people’s tastes, but it removes the grey areas around expectations that many young people are likely to exploit.
4. Lay out consequences from the start
Make the consequences clear for breaking the rules, such as taking away the phone or tablet for a set period of time. But remember, the goal isn’t to punish them, but just to set clear boundaries. Your home’s digital device guidelines should be reasonable rather than excessive, and be made in collaboration with your youngster so they feel a sense of ownership about the rules too. This should make it less likely for them to ‘break the law’, so to speak.
5. Talk about respectful relationships, safety and pornography
You can’t let your young person loose in the digital world without having several conversations about how to stay safe online, how to show respectful behaviour and be aware of the pitfalls of pornography. Each of these topics is a separate issue on its own, but each is deeply affected by the virtual, boundary-free nature of digital technology. This kind of digital exposure can have massive ramifications on the growth and development of young people, especially when it comes to the quality of their relationships and well-being.
6. Be prepared to learn
Be ready to learn about social media, and the different apps and games that young people may be playing. But at the same time, be mindful of their boundaries. A recent Australian survey found that young people see TV-watching as a way of connecting to their family, and social media as a way of connecting to their friends.
7. Change the rules if necessary
Many families will have a young one who believes that rules are made to be broken. They are the ones always pushing past their boundaries, their own limits and the limits of their parents’ patience. Smart parents take a more flexible approach, and believe that rules are made to be changed. Be prepared to keep evolving your rules based on your young person’s behaviour, maturity, sleep habits, their tendency to leave homework or chores unfinished, bullying or any number of issues that will invariably crop up to make them feel like your rules just aren’t working.
8. Keep digital devices out of the bedroom
If there was one rule that you should stay firm on, then this is the one. Many young people are in a constant sleep deficit as it is without bringing digital devices into the mix. They may say they want to charge it in their room. Keep the charger in a public place. They may even want to use their mobile or tablet to wake up in the morning. Applaud them on wanting to wake up on their own, but get them a regular alarm clock instead.
9. Have a ‘digital detox’ one day a week
The only way that this idea will work is if you join them in making one day a week a digital device-free day. They will probably not like it, and neither will you, but the point of having one day off is to prove that they can live without their digital device, and involve them in different forms of communication and entertainment.
Digital technology is now an integral part of our lives, but it’s not the only option we have for entertainment, information and or communication. Before we help our young people, it’s best to look at our own digital habits to make sure we are providing them with what they need – that is, leading by example and being balanced role models who know when to use and when not to use their devices. They are far more likely to walk our walk than follow our talk.
It’s not easy, but with a little effort and forethought, it does not have to be such a daunting proposition.