Technology has become a staple in everyone’s lives — even children’s. As a parent, you might not like the idea. However, there’s no denying that today’s kids need technology. Think about it. Children use technology for school, to communicate with their friends, and even back-to-school shopping.
Even though tech is necessary, it can be dangerous. That’s why it’s important to put safety measures in place that ensure your children’s safety. Here are five ways you can protect your kids when they use technology.
1. Find the Right Device
It’s time for your kid’s first phone. It was a tough decision, but you know that you and your child will benefit. Now comes the hard part — finding an appropriate phone. With so many options available, you want to get the right one. Not only should the phone be safe, but it should fit your budget, be durable, and offer parental-control features.
Buying a safe phone for kids is crucial, especially when it’s their first one. A phone opens up a world of possibilities — not all of them good. Kids don’t fully understand the repercussions of their decisions. So you’ll want to get a phone that accounts for their age and maturity.
As a parent, it’s your responsibility to teach your child the best ways to use technology. To do that, you need the right tools. When shopping for your child’s first gadgets, look for devices specifically designed with kids in mind.
For example, make sure the phone has safeguards in place to protect your child from dangers of the outside world. This might mean selecting a phone without internet access. Or you may want one that only allows a few contacts. Either way, it’s important to make sure the device works for your child and you.
The same rules apply to any device. There are so many tech gadgets out there, and it’s likely your child will be interested in many of them. Before you buy them a computer, tablet, or other device, make sure it’s kid-friendly.
2. Manage Their Screen Time
There are different schools of thought surrounding parental controls. While some parents see the benefits, others consider them an invasion of privacy. According to a Pew Research survey, nearly 40% of parents use parental controls to restrict what their teens do online. Sixteen percent of parents specifically use parental controls to regulate their child’s cell phone usage.
As a parent, you have to decide how you want to manage what your child does on their devices. One option is to adjust your child’s screen time management feature. For example, some apps allow parents to set screen time limits on their child’s devices. This prevents children from spending hours mindlessly scrolling through social media or texting their friends at night. OurPact and FamilyTime are two available apps parents use for this purpose.
Depending on your device, there are other options. If you’re an Android user, you can also create a Google account for your child using Family Link. Once your child has an account, you can set daily limits for their devices from your phone, via the app. You can even lock your child’s phone at particular times of day. Class time, bedtime, or dinner time might be ideal times to shutter their tech.
If you’re not a big techie yourself, there’s the manual method. Collect phones, laptops, and other devices before the kids go to bed each night. It’s a great way to limit that unhealthy blue light they’re now faced with daily.
3. Use Web Filtering Tools
By integrating a web filtering tool, you’re able to keep your children from accessing what you might deem inappropriate. These tools can restrict a range of websites. You can keep your kids off social media or prevent them from going to specific websites. Their browsers won’t even load certain pages.
Similar to managing screen time, there are apps and software you can download that’ll let you filter websites. For example, OpenDNS FamilyShield and Qustodio have web filtering features so parents can choose what their kids have access to.
The Family Link app can be used for this purpose, too. Once you open the app, click “Settings.” From there, you can allow all sites, automatically block mature sites, or only allow access to sites that you’ve pre-approved.
These are great ways to keep your kids from inappropriate sites or misinformation. If you choose to cut social media from their mix, you can also decrease their likelihood of experiencing online bullying. By picking specific websites that you think are educational or appropriate, you can curate an improved learning experience.
4. Create a Tech Contract With Your Child
Before handing your child their first phone or iPad, work with them to create a list of tech guidelines. These guidelines will become your tech contract. So think carefully and decide on specific boundaries. While you have the final say, you should still work on the contract with your child. It’ll help your child better understand the rules and take them seriously.
One topic to cover is when and where they should and shouldn’t use their devices. Obviously this is controllable via the apps previously mentioned, but writing the rules out helps kids develop accountability. Ask them to come up with a list of places and times they think they shouldn’t use their phones. This will help them grow into thoughtful tech users.
If you do intend to enable parental controls, it’s a good idea to discuss them with your child. You don’t want to break the bond of trust you’re forming with your kid. They may not be thrilled that you’re monitoring their activity regardless. But they’ll feel more respected and heard if you discuss your methods and choices beforehand.
Of course, your child might want much more freedom than you’re willing to give them immediately. Consider adding clauses that explain what your child would need to do to gain these freedoms. If they prove that they can finish their homework early, will you allow them to play games for an hour? Tie good behavior to tech allowances so that they understand devices are responsibilities, not just toys.
5. Do Additional Research
As an adult, you’re probably not 100% up-to-date on everything your child is interested in. Sure, you might know about social media, but do you know all the apps out there? Or exactly what happens on every app? Probably not. That’s why it’s important to keep yourself informed and do additional research.
The best way to keep your child safe is to know what’s going on. So spend some time researching the current trends and possible threats. The internet itself may be dangerous for kids, but there’s a wealth of information out there for you. You can search for best practices to keep your children safe.
Also, talk to other parents. Even if it feels like it, you’re not in this alone. Many parents are trying to find their way through this new tech territory. The last generation generally didn’t need to decide how to monitor their children’s device usage — besides video games, of course. Yours does.
If another parent is having success with their methods, feel free to give them a shot yourself. But don’t worry if they’re getting different results. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to managing children’s tech use since kids themselves are so different. If you’re still left with questions, ask the experts. Pediatricians and teachers will have ideas on how to keep your kids safe in the digital age.
The average child gets their first phone by the time they’re 11 years old. However, that doesn’t mean that you should make choices for your children based on national averages. What it does mean is that kid tech use is pervasive. So it’s time to prepare for the day you do give your kids access to technology.
Make sure you’re putting the safety of your kids first. Help them understand what tech citizenship means, and how they can protect themselves online. Instead of simply blocking their access, bring them into the conversation. They’ll benefit from your hands-on approach to their digital lives.