Not long ago, I wrote an article entitled Who’s in Control: Technology in Our Lives. I received several questions or suggestions about “rules” for technology. As a therapist, I often need to address this issue with parents.

As I mentioned in the last article, kids “need” technology. Schools use it more and more for homework and projects. Events are communicated via email, text, Facebook, etc. Technology is useful. I “google” everything. It’s not just a website for me, it’s a verb. I use YouTube and apps in therapy to get points across (to all ages). 

However, technology, like all things, has a power that needs to be harnessed and used wisely.

What’s that, Spiderman? “With great power comes great responsibility.” You bet. So here are some suggestions for technology in our lives.

1) Privacy. (Or lack of…)

The PARENT is the ADULT, the one in charge. More than once, I’ve come across this dilemma: “But my son/daughter bought the phone and pays for the minutes. I can’t take it away.” Why not? If your child is being irresponsible with technology, what’s stopping you? 

Tell me which is better: a) parent removes technology because teen is being irresponsible and is then subject to the teen’s temper tantrum or b) teen gets away with everything because parent doesn’t set rules or follow them and then gets pinned with a legal charge or gets into a vehicle with someone he/she only met online because he/she never learned? I know it’s extreme, but it happens…and it’s happening more often.

Talk to your kids about the risks of technology (e.g., health, predators, etc.), as well as the advantages (e.g., education, communication, etc.).

And set rules about usage. Technology is a privilege, and it’s probably one that you, as the parent, provide/pay for in some way. You have the right to monitor their devices until they are adults. And in the State of Nebraska, that’s 19 years old, folks! 

IT IS YOUR RIGHT AS A PARENT TO MONITOR YOUR CHILDREN’S ACTIVITIES…ONLINE AND IN PERSON!

2) Responsibility.

I tell parents “Make your kid show responsibility BEFORE you get them something they will need to take care of.” I mean, seriously, how many times have I heard “I’m going to get them a dog so they can learn responsibility” and how many pets out there would starve if the PARENTS of those “learners” didn’t feed them?

Technology is much the same. If your kids won’t show responsibility before getting a phone, IPad, tablet, etc., what makes you think they are going to be responsible with technology and make wise decisions when it comes to downloads, texting, etc.? Irresponsible until proven otherwise; make your kids prove themselves.

3) Bedrooms.

First, there’s a lot of research out there about technology in the bedroom and how brains are affected by it. TV’s, phones, radios, etc. all cause disruptions in our brain waves, especially if there are lights and sounds involved. Bedrooms are for relaxing and recharging our body, mind and spirit.

Secondly, there’s an issue with monitoring. I have clients who pretend to sleep until their parents go to bed, then it’s game on, literally. TV and video games at 3 a.m. and then they’re tired the next day. After some time, their entire sleep cycle is messed up. And, please, don’t forget that many gaming systems also hold the capability of connecting to the Internet and streaming. 

It’s healthier and less tempting if technology is out of the bedroom. Some parents have their kids “check in” phones at night (e.g., chargers are ONLY in a certain area). The phones are then kept in an area where they can be monitored by the parent. I realize some people, including me, use their phone for it’s alarm. That’s cool…there are apps out there that allow parents to shut down calling/texting/online usage and turn them back on at designated times.

4) Dependence.

It’s been widely rumored that today’s younger generation is not self-sufficient. I’m guilty of sticking my kids in front of the “babysitter” (aka, TV) so I can get stuff done. However, I’m starting to regret this because I often hear “I’m bored. Can I watch TV? Can I play on the computer? Can I play on your phone?” What ever happened to using one’s imagination to entertain oneself? And once imagination is dulled, so are problem-solving skills.

Kids are also getting into the habit of being rescued, just as much as parents are in the habit of rescuing (because we care). For example, a child forgets his/her homework, sends a text to Mom/Dad, and SuperParent brings the homework to school. Therefore, negative consequences are prevented and all live happily ever after.

A little too much sarcasm? My bad.

Honestly, there are kids that this works. It only happens once. However, more often than not, this scenario gets played out many times. Why? Because the child is rescued and never learns from his/her mistake. And then he/she goes to college or into the workforce…and…

5) Maturity.

We’ve all seen it…a 16-year-old who chooses to act like a toddler. I’ve seen some amazing tantrums from teenagers in my office when parents begin to set boundaries. I’ve also seen amazing tantrums from 7-year-olds who believe they need a phone.

So assess your child’s level of maturity before purchasing or allowing personal technology. Can he/she be responsible? Does he/she follow directions/rules? Does he/she respect him/herself and others?

This rule doesn’t mean younger children, or those deemed not-yet-mature-enough, can’t use technology UNDER SUPERVISION. There are many excellent learning apps out there for toddlers. A 9-year-old can call a friend to arrange a play date. A 13-year-old can partner up with an online person to play a game. 

As the parent, it’s your responsibility to check in on your kids, even the ones you’ve “appraised” as responsible. Kids, it’s your parents’ responsibility to keep you as safe as possible.

6) Time.

I once read that kids should be limited to 30 minutes of TV a day. If you are the parent who can do this, you’re amazing and I’ll take any pointers you can offer.

For the rest of us, this seems daunting, less if you aren’t home because of activities, and more if you count phones, gaming devices, tablets, and technology-in-school.

Just set boundaries upfront. If your kids are old enough, let them help you with the boundaries. Some can be more flexible (e.g., “You can play the computer for 30 minutes or separate it into  two 15-minute times). Other boundaries will need to be firm (e.g., “Your phone has to be on the charger on the kitchen counter by 9 p.m.”).

7) Appreciation.

Again, technology is a privilege. You can help your kids understand and learn appreciation for what they have by saying “no” to the newest craze.

As parents, we want to provide the best and most amazing things for our kids. Some may even say there’s “pressure” or “competition” among adults to “show off” through our children. For example, little Johnny just earned a nice phone but the new X-Phone was just released and he REALLY wants it. After all, it has the ability to a, b, c, d, etc.

Teach your child to wait and appreciate what he/she has. As we know, technology changes constantly. So you have the new X-Phone today, what about the Y-Phone tomorrow? 

8) Access denied.

Set up “no tech zones” or times in your house. For example, the dinner table is used for mealtimes and family chats or games. No technology allowed. The bedroom, as mentioned before, is another place that technology should be limited. 

One reader commented on my last article that, in her household, they have no technology Monday-Thursday. Awesome, and I’m coming over to get pointers!

The trick is following the rules as parents. I’m guilty of answering texts during mealtimes. Also guilty of eating in front of the TV, uh, regularly. Also guilty of eating and checking Facebook while making my kids stay at the dining room table. Of course, there are exceptions because we are the “responsible adults.” You have to decide what your adult exceptions are and the reasons behind them. But be prepared for kids to fight with “But you do it…”

9) Control.

Use parental controls. Period. You can limit what the kids watch on TV. You can deny explicit or violent content.

Set controls on the computer, like a password that YOU must enter before they can use it. One of my families had their technology set up so that at 11 p.m., everything in the house shuts off unless you have the password…and guess who has it. 

There are many apps out there, some free, some not, that can help you monitor usage on devices, as well as enforce boundaries.

Get passwords from minors. I know, I know…for every email account you have the password for, they have 10 other accounts (that’s where honesty and consequences come in). Request their passwords for all devices and services, if you allow them to have personal accounts. Then, use the password to check in on their activity. If you don’t know how to monitor a device or service, do what I do…google it. 

Don’t let naivety be an excuse as a parent.

10) Consequences.

Our children will make mistakes…that’s okay because we’re monitoring them. We want the small, learning mistakes now so we can, hopefully, prevent catastrophic mistakes later. 

Set consequences for your kids and make sure they understand what happens when rules are violated. They are bound to try sneaking extra time in or saying something on social media that shouldn’t have been posted. That’s where we step in so they can learn from their mistakes.

Be careful you don’t go overboard with the consequence. We want them to learn, not plan sneakier ways or become defiant.

That said, the most effective consequence is the one that fits the “crime.” Therefore, with technology, you will likely need to confiscate the “misused” device for a set, appropriate period of time.

Remember, while you can welcome input from your children, it’s your right as the PARENT to set the rules and consequences.

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Jessica McCaslin

Jessica is a mom who is working outside the home part-time and who is learning to cope with the ever-changing daily challenges of full-time parenthood. She graduated with her Master's degree in community counseling from the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2005, and works with a diverse mental health population. Jessica resides in Central Nebraska with her husband and four children on the family ranch.

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