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As a parent in the 21st century, there is an incredible amount of information to digest about how to guide children to meet their potential. When we hit a stumbling block, many of us are accustomed to turning to books and magazines on topics from swaddling to discipline.

In recent years, we have stumbled on another topic that must be addressed — technology. Just as our children are adapting to our technologically inundated world, so are we. Now, instead of always reaching for a book, we Google it!

The digital age is upon us, and our children, with their nimble minds, are learning more rapidly than us how to navigate this digital world. So it is up to parents to supplement the books with an iTunes account, smartphone and iPad. This is the wave of the future and our kids have already reached the shore. Let’s address some of the advantages and pitfalls as we strive to raise good digital citizens.

First, let’s dispel some technology myths. It is neither the enemy nor the savior. It is a tool for educational opportunities, fun and social interactions. Technology will serve as the resource for our children to learn innovative problem solving, social entrepreneurship and international mindedness. All of which will improve our world’s capacity to work together successfully. Their access to information is infinite. Yet, while all of this opportunity is amazing, it comes with great responsibility. Technology cannot replace teachers, outdoor activities or face-to-face exchanges. The key to appropriate usage is much like any other challenge we face. It will require proper boundaries and supervision.

Many parents are aware of these facts. We understand that there are safeguards to be put into place, including keeping the computer in a common room, knowing all of your children’s passwords and setting restrictions on your technical devices. These are simple steps to ensure safety, but they are not enough. Teaching your child to be a good digital citizen takes constant conversation, clear but ever-evolving rules and lessons on reputation management and netiquette (proper etiquette for the Internet).

One of the simplest ways to find peace of mind with these issues is to come up with a family plan or contract. You can find a myriad of examples online and tailor them to meet your needs.

Start by determining what your goals are for incorporating technology into your children’s lives and what your expectations are of their usage. Often, I have found parents have a clearer picture of what they want when they discuss these boundaries and put expectations for each child in writing. This serves as a great tool for either incentives when your children are using technology responsibly or as reinforcement when a consequence needs to be put into place due to breaking of the rules.

Please remember that goals and rules may differ among your children, depending on their age, maturity and educational needs. That being said, there still has to be a consistent way of assessing how children are managing their technological devices. This always leads to the same question. How do we best supervise our children?

There is often some hesitancy on the parents’ part in reviewing their child’s texts and social media content because either it feels like snooping or it becomes another full-time job. The bottom line, it doesn’t have to be either. Supervision is part of family safety and far different than snooping (which I discourage because it destroys trust with your child). Instead, I encourage parents to be open and honest with their children about reading their texts and social media conversations. It is a necessary part of responsible parenting, albeit not a favorite part. Feel free to say, “It is my job to keep you safe, and I need to feel comfortable knowing how you and your friends are using technology.” This becomes less of a battle if it is expected and you have included incentives for using technology well over a specific time period. What child doesn’t look forward to a new app, song or a little extra time on a game?

Luckily, there are apps, such as MamaBear, that assist in making supervision easier. Not only does it have GPS notifying your of your child’s location, but it allows you to screen for inappropriate language on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter without even having to touch your child’s phone. It will actually send you an alert when the determined inappropriate language is being used. This can even help in screening for cyberbullying.

On the flip side, is the determined time for non-tech time. I highly encourage families to set boundaries around family time. Often, these moments include mealtimes and family events. This means everyone puts their phones and iPads away and practices their face-to-face social skills and etiquette, even mom and dad.

I also frequently recommend including play dates and sleepovers in your non-tech time. There is something about the peer pressure at sleepovers that fosters inappropriate technology usage. Avoid it by eliminating this factor and revert to good old fashion games and cookie baking. Trust me, you’ll thank me later. I would even go so far as to suggest discussing the technology policy with other families that you allow to supervise your child. It helps to have some community support in following certain guidelines so you’re not the only parent enforcing rules.

Lastly, remember that the most powerful teachers of technology usage are the people surrounding your child, most importantly you. Role modeling is the ultimate guide of how children will expect to incorporate technology into their lives. If you are texting and driving, expect that your child will make exceptions to your rules.

If you find yourself running into obstacles and needing further guidance, turn to your resources. If your school has a strong technology program, it is likely that an IT person or school counselor can assist you in figuring out next steps. They may even have a parent educational program to help you learn your way. If not, consult a child mental health counselor, psychologist or your pediatrician for resources. Of course, you can always Google it!

 

Dr. Allison Agliata, a licensed clinical psychologist, serves as the middle school principal at Carrollwood Day School (CDS).

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