Kids and Technology Are Your Kids Too Safe?

I’m a parent of teens- almost all teens now. Three of my children are currently in their teen years. If you have teens or kids who are heading toward their teen years, you probably have concerns about technology. Me too.

I’ve seen other parents run the gamut between allowing their kids to have total access to technology from early on to parents who don’t allow their 18-year olds on Facebook. How does a parent decide what they’re going to allow kids to do or not do with technology?

Having been thoroughly immersed into the teen years- I now have one who’s 18 and one who’s 17 as well as a 13-year old and 12-year old- and having seen kids come through homes that are more strict with technology or more lenient with technology, I’ve seen some evidence that kids who are too sheltered from technology can actually struggle more with using it later or can end up doing more physically or morally dangerous with technology.

Kids and technology- principles of keeping them safe
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It’s reasonable- and healthy- to have some rules about technology in your home. But be aware that you aren’t inadvertently keeping your kids “too safe.”

Making technology too forbidden can make it seem more attractive to kids.

Sometimes forbidding any technology can cause kids to want it more and more. It is in our sin nature to want what we aren’t supposed to have. And, unfortunately, when we make something totally off limits, it can create a situation where the kids view it as some great, mysterious thing that everyone else enjoys but that they can’t have.
Our family has had a friend family whose children didn’t have any technology. Every time they came to our house, they wanted to spend all of their time playing video games. Not having any access to anything at home made them want to have it so much that, when given the opportunity, they had no balance. I’ve also seen kids grow up and leave home and become obsessed with Facebook and other social media because they weren’t allowed to use it growing up and, when the given the freedom, jumped in with no limits.

Giving kids the opportunity to use technology while they are still at home with you gives you the chance to guide their choices and interactions.

By allowing kids the freedom to use technology- especially in the form of social media- we’ve had the opportunity to have many good discussions. There are definitely dangers out there, and as we’ve let our kids test the waters, we’ve had real life instances to teach lessons about what’s appropriate and how to guard yourself.
From playing online games to using Facebook and Instagram, kids can be exposed to quite a lot. We definitely shouldn’t just throw our kids out there to sink or swim. But by allowing limited opportunities for them to be involved in these things can give us the chance to talk to them about the things they encounter and guide their decisions about how to use this technology.

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The use of technology should be related to the level of trust the child has earned.

Our kids know at any time that we can ask to see any account that has a password- Facebook, email, Instagram, etc. And we can ask for ipod and computer passwords if they use them. If we are ever refused a password, the device, game, etc. is immediately forfeit. It’s a trust issue. If kids ever break trust in any area by being dishonest or sneaky in their actions, they are probably going to lose technology privileges. Because their use of technology is built on the fact that we can trust them.
Technology, if used appropriately with proper limits, can be a great tool for building integrity and self-control in kids. When kids have to monitor themselves to turn off a video game because they are getting frustrated and acting in anger, they learn self-control. When kids come and ask a parent if it’s okay to accept a certain friend on Facebook, they’re learning to be trustworthy. When a kid knows that the YouTube video being advertised as the one to play next is inappropriate, he’s learning to uphold his standards. And when we see our kids learning these things, we know we can trust them. If we see them struggling, we know it’s an area in which we need to work; and we need to keep them a little closer and allow fewer freedoms.

When you allow your kids to use technology, you need to be tech savvy and know as much or more than they do.

Often I’ve heard parents offer as an excuse for not wanting their kids to use technology: “But I don’t know anything about that. I’m afraid to let them use it because I wouldn’t know if they were making good decisions or not.” The fact is that eventually your kids are going to  learn how to do it. They’re going to have an opportunity to set up social media accounts or play online video games or use personal electronics or watch television and movies that they choose. If you have chosen to remain clueless about those things, you’re right. You won’t have any idea of whether or not they are making good and safe decisions. So why not educate yourself instead?
Sign up for every form of social media you allow your child to use. Friend them. Friend their friends. If they want a video game, research it thoroughly before you let them buy it. Know how it works, what the content is, how it is played (especially if they can play online). If they want to watch a movie or a television show, look it up and know the content. (Common Sense Media and Plugged In are two of my favorite parent review sites, and they both review video and games and music as well.) Be an educated parent and participate in these things with your child. Because your child knows that you know what you’re talking about, he has a safety net when it comes to making good choices.

Make age appropriate decisions that allow more freedoms little by little.

Being allowed privileges is something that should be slowly done over time. A 14 year old can have more freedom than a 9 year old. A 16 year old can have even more. And all of it builds on trust. Don’t throw your 8 year old out into the world of social media. Even a child who can tell you that it’s not safe to give out personal information online will often give out the information because they don’t realize that’s what they’re doing. A 10 year old often doesn’t have the framework to determine if a YouTube video is appropriate, so don’t allow them to search on YouTube.
The age that you deem appropriate might change with each child. And that’s okay. Kids are different. We tell our kids all the time that our goal isn’t to be fair, it’s to do what’s appropriate for each child. Although we have approximate ages when certain things are allowed, we also consider the child. So sometimes a child has had a freedom earlier and sometimes later. And, as I said earlier, trust is a key component. So how the child has shown himself trustworthy in other situations can help to determine how ready he is for technology freedom.
Kids and technology- principles of keeping them safe
It is our responsibility as parents to help our kids to navigate the murky waters of technology. There is definitely a balance that must be present in the freedoms we allow and the protection we give. As you prayerfully consider guidelines for technology in your home, think about whether or not your kids might be too safe.
What guidelines does your family have for technology use? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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