By Kristyna Yeager
The social, creative, and educational opportunities that come by way of digital technology are limitless and, as we well know, not without peril. The two best resources for keeping children safe are their parents and themselves, but a little technological support can be useful. Staying informed, taking action, and communicating openly will help build positive online experiences that will help foster responsible behavior in your household.
Young people interact with digital media in a variety of ways. According to study conducted by Common Sense Media, American tweens (ages 8-12) spend an average of about 4.5 hours on screen media use a day, while American teens (13-18) spend an average of about 6.5 hours worth of daily screen media use (daily averages do not include time spent at school or for homework). It is difficult to believe this is an accurate snapshot within our small SAES community because of the intentions we have behind our no cell phone policy, the non-academic activities many St. Anne’s students participate in after school, and digital guidelines at home. Regardless, the SAES Digital Life survey given last year indicated that “too much screen time” was what concerned parents most about their child’s online life. Digital media plays a key role in how kids function and develop, staking claims on their time and attention. Consequently, it deserves our continued scrutiny. Keep your kids’ digital world safe, fun, and productive by implementing and evaluating some best digital parenting practices while in your home and about.
Good digital parenting begins with acknowledging risks and reducing harms associated with having digital lives, both in ourselves and our children. Being calm, open, and direct when talking with your kids is the first step. The earlier you open this line of communication, the better. Discussions can include age-appropriate content, with whom we have contact, and how we behave while online. The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) recommends that parents never miss a teachable moment where smart technology is concerned: first device, turning 13, getting a driver’s license, or when your child wants to try or buy a new app/game/site. Exploring and learning can be a two-way street when it comes to technology. Take time to enjoy digital media with your child, and you may be surprised at what he or she can teach you. If you start this habit at a young age, it may just become routine. Check out FOSI’s tips and resources to educate yourself on some of the most popular games, apps, and social media sites. Additionally, heed social media age limit restrictions when your child wants to create an account. Most sites have a minimum age requirement of 13 so letting your child know your feelings about honoring those guidelines will help curb the notion to join too early.
Fortunately, with many big-name platforms and companies beginning to address digital well-being, using parental controls and safety settings is more accessible than ever. However, choosing a parental control utility can be a little daunting. You’ll have to do a bit of homework to determine the program that might work for your family, but the payoff will be well worth your time. It’s important to consider all device types and operating systems. Also, you will want to keep in mind the filtering and blocking capabilities, social media tracking options, and ease of installation and usage. PCMag, Tom’s Guide, and Top Ten Reviews have comprehensive reviews to help point your family in the right direction. Don’t forget or ignore the built-in options on your current operating systems and devices.
Another invaluable consideration for good digital parenting is establishing ground rules, setting boundaries, and applying consequences when necessary. There are multiple tools parents can choose from, including family media agreements or plans, cell phone contracts, or simply making a list of rules to apply to your child’s digital life. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but these tools are all useful in starting a conversation with your family about how to behave online in a positive way and help keep the lines of communication open. Choose one that works well for your family and make adjustments when necessary.
Do you want to wait as long as possible before you open the door to smartphone usage? A recent movement sweeping the country is the Wait Until 8th pledge, a cause that empowers parents to band together in waiting till their child is in 8th grade or beyond before purchasing a smartphone. The organization suggests skipping the smartphone contracts altogether with a long list of reasons to wait until a teenager actually has a purpose for having a smartphone. This pledge might work well in a community such as St. Anne’s. But do keep in mind that, even if you wait until 8th grade to buy a smartphone for your kids, they will begin to have online activity the moment you put any online device in their hands--be it an iPad, family computer, or Roku.
Here at St. Anne’s, the Technology Department does our part to support community-based digital citizenship. We regularly utilize Common Sense Education’s curriculum to teach students how to think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in the digital world. In grades K-2, students are learning how to go places safely online, what kinds of information to keep private versus what information is okay to have in your digital footprint, and what to do when you encounter cyberbullying. In grades 3-6, students are learning how to represent themselves, the effects of what they say about others, media literacy, and how their media choices affect their own well-being. In grades 7 and 8, students are learning how to think before they post, practice netiquette (online etiquette), understand their digital footprint and reputation, reduce oversharing, and find a media/life balance.
Because so much of our children’s lives involve communication via computers, smart devices, and gaming systems, cyberbullying remains an important topic to discuss at home. Following good digital parenting practices such as having open communication and media plans, first-hand experiences with applications and digital tools that interest your child, and using parental control features are key to helping prevent and protect against cyberbullying. But another consideration includes device location. Keeping your home computers, laptops, and gaming systems in highly visible or central locations is a great way to keep tabs on digital interactions. A central docking/charging station for everyone’s device is another good idea. In addition, take time to show your kids how to block, flag or report abusive and inappropriate content and encourage socializing with friends in person. Parents can also discuss using anti-cyberbullying technology such as ReThink, a free app that can help detect and prevent hateful language. It gives users the opportunity to think before posting something they may regret.
One of the most important things you can do to be a good digital parent is to be a good digital role model. Evaluate your own digital habits and curb any bad ones. It is necessary for parents to be aware of their own digital behavior so they can promote positive behavior in their children. You can’t expect your kids not to text and drive if they grew up watching you do it. If you have “no phone zones” or a common docking area, make sure you are following those guidelines as well. Take the lead on setting time to unplug for yourself and your family and find a balance of online and offline activities.
Keeping our children’s online lives safe, fun, and appropriate is on the minds of teachers and parents everywhere. Thinking about it and doing something about it are two different things. A lot of us get stuck on not knowing what to do, and the task at hand can be challenging. But good digital parenting and community-based digital citizenship are all about taking an active role in minimizing risks and maximizing benefits. Check out the list of resources below to take a step in the right direction.
List of resources
Good Digital Parenting Resources:
Parental Monitoring Software Reviews:
Built-in Safety Features for Devices:
CompariTech (Reviews and detailed instructions for various operating systems)