As parents, what can we do to help our children use technology in a healthy way?

Technology is not going anywhere and we all need to find ways to us it in a healthy way. But how can you help your children do just that? Here are a few suggestions: 

Delay smart devices as long as you can. Educate yourself. Teach your kids about technology safety and etiquette. Be involved and know how your kids are using technology. As parents, support each other. 

What does this mean? Consider delaying and limiting technology. Introduce it slowly so you can prepare and teach your child as they gain more and more access. This is why we recommend delaying social media and unrestricted internet access until AT LEAST 8th grade. 

First, teach your child how to use a basic phone - how to actually greet an adult on the other end and how to ask to speak with a friend, how to leave a message. These are skills kids need to learn but are hard to teach because most people don't have landlines and have moved away from actually calling each other. Instead of planning a play date for your child via text, encourage them to call their friend's house or a parent's phone. Have them practice calling grandparents and other family members or close friends. Children as young as 3 can be taught this lesson. And I can assure you, the other person on the line will love it. Wouldn't you?

Then be honest about how they can protect their privacy and how difficult it is to do that in an online world. All these online platforms are collecting information about us with every click we make. Once we put something out there, it is there forever, whether we actually delete it or not. Remind them that’s it’s human to protect other people’s privacy, too. And that they should never share information about or a picture of someone else without that person’s consent. Talk about sexting and call it what it is - child pornography. Make sure they understand that sending or receiving naked pictures is against federal laws. And that they should tell an adult immediately if this happens.

Introduce texting - what’s appropriate and what’s not. Is it necessary to text a friend the word "hi" 52 times in 1 hour? What about tone? Encourage them to think about how someone might interpret what they're reading without seeing their face or hearing their voice. Remind them that parents may be reading texts. And to never say something over text that they wouldn't say in person.

Encourage your kids to be deliberate with technology use and to use it sparingly, not constantly. Know what your kids are doing online and support each other. Kids use technology so much, it’s a challenge to go this alone. Parents should be talking to each other about when and how their children are using technology and should do so with empathy and understanding. This is why we set up Concord Promise - to spark conversations amongst parents and to inform parents.

Talk about google searches and teach them how to protect themselves from an “oops search.” Remind them that there are scary things on the internet that are not appropriate for kids', and even some adults', eyes. Build trust so they feel comfortable talking to you if they see something  that scares them. The statistics on children who have been exposed to hardcore porn online either through accidental searches while doing homework or through deliberate searches of something less benign are staggering. We hear these stories far too often. And there is no real way to protect your kids from porn, no matter what parental controls you use. And don't be fooled, pornography has found it's way on to YouTube and is sometimes embedded in innocent videos like Sesame Street. 

Teach them how to avoid information overload and fake news. Always check the source! And that they should really think about what they're sharing and if it's accurate.

Talk about how games and most apps are designed to be addictive - like mini-slot machines in our pockets. And that addiction, especially for teenagers, is very real. Addiction habits are formed during the teenage years when their brains are developing.

When introducing social media, challenge them to think about their own personal brand. Teach them that once you put something out there, it’s there to stay…forever. Encourage them to think about what they’re posting and why. There are endless stories about high school kids being denied admission to top colleges or losing scholarships because of things they've texted or posted. 

Develop a family media plan.  AAP has a great one - it’s on our website. Talk about technology through the lens of your family’s values. Use our resources to educate yourselves. Be a good role model. Absolutely do not allow devices at ANY meal, either in a restaurant or at home. And put phones down while in the car. 

Support each other. We cannot stress this enough. We have heard time and again that parents need the support of other parents to help navigate the complicated world of technology. Let Concord Promise be a platform where you can do just that. 

Technology is here to stay and we have to empower ourselves and our kids to use it to our benefit.