As we draw near to Christmas day I've been asked about how to protect primary-aged children who are receiving electronic Christmas presents. Good question.
Our kids love gaming! In fact they’re having a Mario Cart tournament as I write this. Technology, gaming and social media are fun and are here to stay, but it is our role to protect them and help them to self-regulate in this beguiling new world.
Ask their opinion
Before our children switch that new gadget on, it’s constructive to ask them how they think it should be used responsibly; how much time they could be on it for each day; whether there should be a cut-off time in the evening and what they think the limitations should be. They often have creative ideas to contribute to these conversations. If they have been part of the process of creating boundaries, they’re more likely to uphold them.
Once you've listened to them you can decide what will work best in your home. Here are a few worth thinking about: Gaming - do you permit them to game on line with friends or even strangers? When and where can technology be used? Is there a cut off time so they can decompress before bedtime? What time are screens allowed to go on in the morning? Will they be permitted to play on them before school? When friends come around, should there be an amount of time that they play together without tech?
What’s your goal? Ours is that our children will learn to self-manage. Whatever your boundaries, it’s helpful for children to learn how to maintain them independently. For example, if you give them an hour a day on their device, give them the responsibility of timing themselves. If you find them on a device and they can’t show that it’s being timed, there could be a consequence for that to help them to rise to that responsibility. If they can save the world with two thumbs they can probably find the timer on their new device.
Keep them relevant. If I don’t put the bins out on Monday night, nobody comes and switches my WiFi off. If we threaten their technology every time they step out of line it will become the new post-Christmas bone of contention in your home. That’s a present that will keep on giving!
Let them know what the consequence is for each boundary they choose to breach. Whether that’s going over the permitted time, keeping it in their bedroom or communicating with a stranger. It’s fair to give them a clear understanding of what will happen if they step over the boundaries. For example, if they’re on a screen and haven’t timed themselves, they could lose it for a day.
There are some electronic safeguards that are helpful, however, I would say that there are no safeguards that substitute good parental modelling, supervision and guidance. Among the plethora of options, these are the two I particularly recommend to investigate:
Safetonet – allows you to limit which apps they can use and for how long. For example, you can reduce their gadget to music only at homework time. It also flags up to your phone if their gadget has accessed or sent inappropriate language or images.
Moment- tracks usage of apps, phone time and can block all or selected access. You can have this on yours too, you might be surprised by your own record. I was by mine!
Many children complain that their parents are distracted by their phones. What could you offer into the agreement? Do you answer your phone when you’re speaking to your child? Do you check it at breakfast? Look at it during dinner? Children always find It easier if we are prepared to model our own values.
If you have listened to their perspective on tech and put good boundaries in place, you may still get their full wrath when they’re walking in a well thought through consequence. Don’t jump in the pit with them or you won’t know who the smell’s coming from. Hold your nerve and be kind.
Acknowledge that it’s hard for them to be without their tech or have limitations imposed. Let them know that you understand their frustration. Avoid ‘I told you so’ Let the consequence do the teaching. It would be odd to punish a child at the same time as sympathising with them. But letting them walk in a logical consequence and empathising is gentle and strong - and far preferable to another few years of nagging.
Be empowered, not overpowering
So often I hear parents say “I can’t get them off that thing.” Or to them “You’ve always got your face in that gadget.” That’s not empowered parenting, it’s whinging and nagging. It destroys relationship. Empowered parenting is responding to situations from our values with well thought through boundaries and consequences – and empathy. Reactive parenting is losing our cool (usually because we feel we’re losing control). If we’re frustrated with their choices, it’s a good idea to go right back up to the top of the page and start again with setting boundaries and appropriate consequences for when they breach them.
This is a tough learning ground for them and they’re surrounded by friends whose boundaries will be different. They’re exploring how to use technology and how to put technology down. That’s hard enough for us as adults. I know that one look at BBC news can have me foraging on an endless trail of feeds. They need us by their side looking at the tech issue from their perspective and sharing our perspective with them. If we stick the tech issue in the middle, right between us and them, it becomes a battle ground.
As they begin to go on exhilarating electronic adventures without getting out of their chair, regularly remind them that life is full of real adventures. Whittle sticks, play with fire, get out into the woods to climb trees and swing from ropes, go wild swimming (perhaps not in the middle of winter), cycle down muddy hills and show them that adventure doesn’t have to be electronic.
You are one of the last surviving generations to remember life without social media
- blaze a trail!
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