Like countless generations of parents before me, I am being pushed along a bumpy road to embracing new technology by my children. While both my husband and I finally feel quite adept at setting the clocks on our ‘vintage’ tech like the VCR, we needed our 5-year-old to show us how to talk to Siri on our phones.
Our slow and cautious adaptation of new tech and trends results in a lot of exasperated eye rolling by our kids, but our trepidation is not completely surprising. In a just few short years, we’ve gone from having the TV being the only battleground for screen time, to juggling a lot of whining and begging for time on tablets, iPods, smartphones, laptops and Netflix. On a near-daily basis, our kids are returning home from school with a list of new apps, online games, and various devices they want and “need” to keep up with their peers.
For my 10-year-old in particular, the technology landscape is changing dramatically in her social network of tweens and nearly tweens. At least half of her classmates now have their own iPods or iPhones, as well as their own email and various social media accounts.
For a parent who only got her first cell phone in her 30s, and who still hasn’t joined Facebook, there’s a big mental roadblock to finding a comfortable way down this inevitable, but thorny path.
In an effort to be open-minded and receptive to my daughter’s desire and curiosity about technology and the online world, and to perhaps evolve a bit from my dinosaur-ish ways, I decided to conduct a very unscientific survey of my closest friends who have tweens of their own.
Not surprisingly, their responses spanned the full spectrum of options. While many of the kids who have their own devices inherited early versions from older siblings or savvy aunts and uncles etc., some of my friends have given their tweens their own phone as a safety solution to walking home and staying home alone. A few of my friends are also more like us: late technology bloomers (or boomers) shying away from the online world in a last-ditch effort to keep intact the fleeting bubble of our tweens’ childhood for as long as possible.
There were however, similar strategies and useful tips across the board for any reluctant parent trying to find a happy medium for navigating kids through the onset of the tech years.
Setting limits: The best and most obvious advice is setting limits you are comfortable with. From cell phones without data activated and limiting hours and Wi-Fi access, to enabling parental controls on software and even a “no tech in your rooms after lights out” stipulation, I was comforted to hear that none of my friends’ kids put up any resistance to these types of reasonable limitations on time or use of their new tech.
Monitoring online accounts: Similarly, I like the idea of linking a younger child’s email account to a parent’s existing account, which is easily doable via options such as Apple’s Family Sharing or your email provider’s settings. On social media, a common practice is joining the same sites as your kids and friending them, and restricting who else your kids friend to just a small circle of people you both know. This way, when incidents of online bullying or inappropriate behaviour happen (and it will, if my small survey is any indication), you’ll be aware and able to respond immediately.
Buy yourself time: When I want more time to consider a request for new apps and games I’ve never heard of, I have started asking my kids to read the reviews and the recommended age minimums to me. Much like getting reading aloud the amount of sugar in the breakfast cereals they beg for when we’re shopping, this tactic does appeal to their rational brains, and helps them to accept a “no” decision when necessary.
Ditto for social media accounts: I’ve shown my nearly-tween the online safety policies that state she needs to be at least 13 to join most of them, which has postponed that discussion for a couple more years.
Make money a real part of the discussion: My favourite takeaway from my ‘survey’ is how one of my friends said “yes” to her 12-year-old’s request for her own device by setting the condition that she buy it herself. After several months of saving babysitting earnings, her daughter researched and bought a used iPod through Kijiji. With just the simple Wi-fi access to the Internet, her daughter has the Instagram account she wanted and can email her friends, but isn’t paying for a monthly data plan and her time on the device is limited.
In the end, my conversations with other parents greatly increased my comfort and confidence about my daughter entering this new phase of technology use. Even better, I think it’s been good practice for all of us in negotiation and active listening for the next stage: borrowing the car and going on dates without a chaperone. I’ll happily choose the debate about tech over that eventuality for as long as I possibly can.