Technology at Home: Advice for the Digital Family

Parents often ask the Tech Team about appropriate technology use at home for their children. Every family is different, which makes it difficult to give a one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on the age of the child, as well as the family's approach to introducing technology devices into their home. However, with the help of Shore's Technology Council, peer schools, and some trusted resources, we have put together a list of guidelines for families to consider regarding technology use at home. Our goal was not to provide a concrete set of rules, but to share sound advice and tips for parents to use when talking to their children about safe, respectful, and appropriate use of technology.

General Recommendations

The first piece of advice we generally offer parents with questions about establishing healthy tech habits at home is to keep technology use limited to the public spaces in your home, such as the kitchen or family room, and not behind closed doors. While you don’t necessarily need to be sitting next to your child, you should be present enough that your child knows you are there and aware of his/her activities. If you wouldn’t allow your child to have an unsupervised play date, they are too young to have unsupervised online playtime.

We also find ourselves often reminding parents that it’s OK to set limits on screen time; there are appropriate and inappropriate times to use technology. One great way to put this in terms everyone can understand is by creating a family media use plan that allows for plenty of family time, outdoor play, unplugged time, and sleep, as well as constructive and creative time on a digital device. Technology-free zones, such as the car and especially the dinner table, are another helpful idea that feels fair for everyone.

With digital connectedness playing an ever greater role in young people's lives, we can't emphasize enough how important it is for parents to be present in their child’s digital life. Just like in the real world, know who your children are friends with online; be aware of what apps and websites they visit. If it seems developmentally appropriate, there is absolutely nothing wrong with knowing your children’s passwords for their various accounts.

Of course, some pieces of advice are easier doled out than followed. Here's one that probably quite a few of us have trouble with: model the behaviors you are asking your children to learn. Family rules about technology-free zones, screen-time, and the like apply equally to parents and kids. Following our own tech rules demonstrates the value we place on them.

Internet Safety, Social Media, and Gaming

The Internet, social media, and online gaming comprise a constantly changing digital landscape that frankly evokes fear in many parents we meet. But as with other scary subjects, the key to family peace and comfort around these technologies is to talk frequently with your child, in this case about online safety and digital decision making. Help them understand what types of personal information are ok to share (“my favorite color is blue,” “I like hedgehogs”) and what is not (a home address or vacation plans). It is important for children to understand that once something is shared digitally, it is impossible to delete. Talk to your child about thinking twice before clicking “post” or “send.”

In an age when our kids are increasingly the household's early adopters of the latest and greatest, it's up to parents to do our homework. This could start with creating your own accounts in apps or social media and exploring what your child's up to. Dig into the privacy settings, age limits, and impartial ratings of the sites, games, and apps they frequent. Trusted resources such as Common Sense Media are great at flagging potential issues with all of these digital destinations. See below for more recommended resources.

Inform children about the danger of predators online. Discourage your child from friending and chatting with people they don’t know in real life, particularly if that person seems overly interested in their personal details. Show them how to create account usernames that avoid using your child’s name (for example: “bluehedgehogfan3” instead of “jillinhamilton10”), as well as how to set strong passwords and to keep them private.

Kids will make mistakes. Try to handle lapses in judgement calmly and use them as teachable moments. Make sure your child feels comfortable coming to you in the event of an online issue. If he or she feels that you will be upset or take away a device, it’s possible your child won’t come to you with a problem until it’s too late.

Phones and More

It seems cell phones and tablets are more and more deeply ingrained into daily life, especially that of our children. This is why ground rules for devices are essential. First and foremost, remind your child not to answer phone calls or respond to texts from a number they don’t recognize. Just as important, ask that they always answer the phone when you call!

When they are texting and sharing photos with friends, encourage children to be respectful, and remind them to never write or send a photo of anything they wouldn't share in person to the recipient’s face, or that they'd be embarrassed to have you—or the rest of the world—see. Again, make sure kids understand that even though they may believe certain onling communications are completely private, the reality is that nothing online is guaranteed to be truly private forever.

One key hardware feature that's now almost as ubiquitious as it is misunderstood is location-awareness in apps. Learn about and explain the risks of using location services within an app. Go over the settings with your child and talk about the pros and cons of using location apps with friends and family.

Finally, set expectations for data plan overages and app downloading, as well as what will happen if a phone is lost or damaged. Make sure your child understands that it costs money to use a cell phone. Consider setting a password for app downloads and setting up email notifications about data use.

Helpful Resources

Common Sense Media is a great site for parenting advice in the digital age. From quick answers to commonly asked questions on topics like “Cell Phone Parenting” and “Privacy and Internet Safety” to reviews of apps, websites, TV shows, and movies, CSM is a comprehensive resource. Common Sense Media is a San Francisco-based non-profit organization that provides education and advocacy to families to promote safe technology and media for children.

In the New York Times Well Family Blog, you'll find thoughtful articles on all aspects of parenting in a technological age; use use the search feature to find a slew of helpful articles. Here are a few we’ve found to be interesting:
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    • Director of Technology Susan Morgan with first graders

    • Advising students during the Hour of Code

    • Sixth graders hard at work/play in the Kiva

    • Engrossed with a tablet

    • Seventh graders with history teacher Noah Clarke

    • First grade teacher Mary Kinahan