This article is written by Rhonda Moskowitz, M.A. PCI
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As a parent you’re probably noticed that school has changed a great deal since you were a child. Yes, your child still needs school supplies and Staples is your best friend, but in many school districts there is a new supply item on the list—technology. From kindergarten through high school students are being handed screens to use for educational purposes. Gone are the 20 lb. backpacks overloaded with textbooks; in are sleek new ipads and laptops. It’s a gift and a challenge, all at the same time.
The truth is that our children are growing up in the digital age. No matter what they choose to do as adults, it will surely require a certain level of comfort and understanding of a wide array of technology. To that end many schools now provide the technology and instruction so that our children become familiar with the capabilities of these devices. It’s truly amazing how the appropriate and innovative use of a screen can enhance the learning experience!
The flip side of this is the challenge. Once those screens come home many parents have shared with me that it can become a power struggle. Using it for homework or research is one thing, playing games another. When homework was a paper and pencil task it was easy to see if your child was doing what she was supposed to. With a screen that can be minimized quickly it’s not so easy to know what is going on. Lost in the shuffle is face-to-face family time, which now looks more like a small group of people sitting together each glued to a different screen. (Been to Starbucks lately? That’s what it looks like.) Tech savvy parents may be able to set timers or block sites. Then there are the rest of us.
What do you do if you have a child with access to a device and you want to set limits?
- Establish screen rules
Parents can and should decide the what, when and where of screen usage. What is OK to watch and what is off-limits? How much time daily are you comfortable with your child using technology? Are there other activities that you want your child to spend time engaged in? Is it important to you that all screens are used in a common area? Are you comfortable with screens in bedrooms even if you’re not supervising?
There is no one size fits all answer to any of those questions. Each family will determine what works best for them. Depending on the ages of your children you may want to include them in the conversation. In general the younger the child, the less time should be spent in front of a screen. But even teens need to get up, move around, and have different interests.
- Set screen-free times
Determine when it’s OK for family members (this means parents, too) to use screens and when it’s not. A family meal is the ideal time to say no screens. Focus on each other; work emails and YouTube can wait.
- Understand how long it should take to complete assignments online
If your child spends an inordinate amount of time completing homework, it’s time to get curious about what he is doing online. Ask him to show you what he is working on. You want to understand if the time is being spent on the assignment or checking social media.
If your child is really focused on the work, it’s time to speak with the teacher or school counselor. You can provide valuable information about how your child works and they can offer helpful ideas. These educators are your best resources for understanding how to support your child at home.
- No devices in bedrooms overnight
Period. If you don’t know where the screen is you don’t know how or when it is being used overnight. All devices go into chargers in a parent-supervised area at least 30 minutes before lights out. The lights on a screen actually keep the brain engaged, so park it early and give your child a chance to read and slow down for sleep.
- Your children will do what you do, not what you say.
In the end, it’s up to us as parents to model what we want. Saying “No phone at the dinner table” then checking yours every time it beeps tells children that rules are meant to be broken. Don’t create a rule that you can’t follow. Design rules that you can all adhere to.
So what’s the key to success in this brave new world of parenting children who have never lived in a world without technology? Be open to talking with them about what they do online. Try to understand what they enjoy and why. Have them teach you something. It’s a gift to build connection with your children using their interests.
At the same time you are still the parent. Technology use is one of the big challenges parents face in 2017. Yet the basic rules of parenting still apply. Parents gradually give access to an ever-widening world as they see that their child is ready. You wouldn’t give your six-year-old the keys to the car. Nor should you give her the keys to the world. You can set parameters around screens as you help your children understand your family’s rules for screen use. You will be teaching them that family, not technology, is the most important thing in the world.
Featured Contributor: Rhonda Moskowitz
With over 30 years experience as a parent coach, speaker, and educator, Rhonda shares her natural humor and genuine caring with parents. Her goal is to help moms and dad create the loving, life long connected relationship with their children that they dream of.