When it comes to technology use and kids, parents have a lot to say on the subject. Some present their kids with detailed technology contracts while others have just a few simple expectations for mobile devices. Almost all parents, though, set (or plan to set) limits of some kind.
Parents are wise to do so. “Research has shown that our digital lifestyles—all that multitasking!—may be harming our ability to stay focused,” says Caroline Knorr, senior parenting editor with Common Sense Media. “And if kids are using problematic media, it could lower their sense of empathy and social well-being.”
Day to day, Knorr says it’s best to keep tech time in balance with outdoor time and peer relationships.
Keeping this and other parents’ limits in mind, I couldn’t help but think of my own technology and social media habits. Was I practicing what I was preaching? What will my kids remember about my relationship to technology? If you wonder about this too, here are a few points to ponder before you post.
Set a Good Example
Nearly one third of teens think their parents are addicted to their mobile devices, according to Knorr. To set a good example, Knorr suggests:
- Declare tech-free zones and times. Put your own devices away while driving, at mealtimes, and during family time.
- Talk with kids about what they’re seeing, reading, and playing. Encourage them to question and consider the media messages they are receiving.
- Share funny and interesting content you find with your kids. It makes for good conversation, and sets a precedent for your kids to share with you as well.
- Watch the clock. It’s easy to lose track and waste too much time online.
When it comes to all electronic communication, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, in his book, Before You Hit Send, suggests four questions people should ask themselves: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it clear?
“When I answer these four questions, it decreases the likelihood that the other person will get the wrong idea and increases the likelihood the other person will get the right idea!” says Eggerichs. “It saves me a lot of time correcting misunderstandings and rupturing relationships.” Also, posting without these values in mind has been known to cost adults their jobs or prevent them from being hired at all, as examples in the book describe.
Consider Children’s Feelings
When posting online, consider how your children would feel if they saw it. If children object, “this can create frustration and anger in the children…and an overall violation within the one place all children wish and need to feel secure—their homes,” says Dr. Thelma Duffey, professor and chair of the Department of Counseling at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “This lack of security is especially harmful when parents boast about their discipline by showing videos of them berating their children. In these cases, children can feel deep shame and helplessness in knowing the person who is supposed to love them most has exposed them in an embarrassing way to the world through the internet.”
“Avoid ‘over-sharenting’—constant updates on bodily functions, bragging about your kids’ accomplishments, and extolling your own excellent parenting skills,” adds Knorr.
Duffey agrees. “This can be particularly detrimental if (parents) seek acceptance by the number of ‘likes’ their posts of their children receive. This form of dependence on outside approval can be hurtful to (parents) and harmful to their children.”
Consider Who Can See Your Photos
Sharing photos of your kids online connects family and friends, but sexual abuse prevention educator Feather Berkower urges parents to consider what is best for their children. According to the Pew Research Center article Parents and Social Media, about one third of a typical parent’s Facebook friends are considered actual friends. This means it’s extremely difficult to know if a “friend” might have a sexual behavior problem with children, says Berkower. “Most of us have someone in our social media network who, unbeknownst to us, may have already or will sexually abuse a child,” says Berkower in her article, “I Know Your Child Is Adorable, But…”.
“Online child sexual abusers download, trade, Photoshop, and sell images of children,” Berkower says. “If one of your family members or friends has a sexual behavior problem with children, the cute photo of your child in the tub, playing in the sprinkler, or at home in their scout uniform may possibly be downloaded—and stored or shared.”
While you shouldn’t depend on privacy settings to be foolproof, make sure that you use them. Review the settings on your accounts and remember that you can limit posts to certain people within your network. In addition, be careful about revealing your location.
The Good News
Despite the risks of technology use, the truth is, the news is not all bad. Face-to-face sexual abuse has been declining in the United States, according Dr. David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, including instances of children abusing other children. “So while access to internet images may be responsible for some cases of abuse, I don’t think it is a large factor in the trends we have been seeing,” Finkelhor says.
Knorr, too, says that Common Sense Media’s research on kids’ technology use is less scary than parents might think. “Many more teens report a positive impact of social media use on their emotional well-being than a negative one,” Knorr says. “And despite being avid social media users, talking to each other in person is still teens’ favorite way to communicate.”
And thanks to technology, many moms have made close friends and large social support systems. It’s also great for finding information and resources for specific parenting challenges. “This means that when (parents) do feel disconnected or overwhelmed at home, they can find some form of support and direction online, which can be both comforting and informative,” Duffey says. “A connected mom is a nice thing to have in any home!”
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) prevents companies from collecting certain information from kids under age 13, making 13 the legal age that kids can download most apps or sign up for social media sites.
“Unfortunately, it’s super easy for kids to circumvent the age limit,” says Knorr. “From a parenting perspective, Common Sense Media recommends using that age limit as a guideline, but ultimately, you are the best judge of what your kid is ready for.”
Here are a few other technology limits parents are setting for their kids:
- No smartphones are allowed in my kids’ rooms at all, especially at bedtime. Technology goes off at least a half hour before bedtime. —Valorie, mom of two
- Video games, TV, movies, or YouTube can be played/watched with permission, and should be played on a family iPad, computer, or TV in a public part of the house (not bedrooms). Each week from 5 p.m. on Saturday until 4 p.m. on Sunday, the whole family takes a break from technology in an effort to spend time together, read, or do other projects. —Duane, dad of two
- I get to check my daughter’s phone anytime I ask for it. She must ask before downloading any app. No phone use after 8 p.m. —Shawna, mom of one
- My 15-year-old son can have Instagram but only if I follow him. No Snapchat and no other social media are allowed for either of my boys. —Nikki, mom of two
- All devices have to be password protected, and I get all passwords. They understand that the primary purpose of the phone is to communicate with parents and guardians. They are required to respond to texts within a reasonable time or I shut them off remotely or take their phones away. —Jennifer, mom of four
- When walking short distances in the neighborhood, the kids are not allowed to have their phones out—they are expected to pay attention to where they are walking. When they were younger, I set up a login screen for each child on the family computer with a one-hour time limit for each day. When the time was up, they’d receive an alert on the screen, and were expected to log off. —Derek, dad of two
If a Child Receives a Nude Photograph…
Unfortunately, it’s common that some children and teens send nude photographs or photos of private parts to the mobile phones of other children and teens. Tell your kids that this is a crime, and make sure they know the appropriate way to respond if this happens.
“The child receiving the photo will not be in trouble, but if that child starts sending the photo around, that’s when it is a problem,” says David Bourgeois, detective with the Denver Police Department’s sex offender registration unit.
The child receiving the photo should not delete it, but should immediately call local law enforcement or alert an adult who can call local law enforcement. The child who sent the photo, when tracked down, could be charged with Distribution of Child Pornography.
“We would present the charges to the DA (district attorney), take the phone away as evidence, the parents would be called, and they would be served a summons to appear in court,” Bourgeois explains. “From there, it is up to the DA to decide what action will be taken.”