We’ve all had days when we have both cursed and blessed the smartphone in our pocket. But what role does this magical device have in the hands of our kids? As research and experience mount in regards to the effects smartphones have had on this generation, it’s clear that as parents we need to have a plan of action as to how best to prepare our children for the age of smartphones. Listed below are some things to consider as you navigate the digital world with your children.
Delay, delay, delay! Hold off giving your child a smartphone as long as possible. Once you have entrusted them with the responsibility, it is much more difficult to take that privilege away. By being strategic on when an adolescent assumes the responsibility of carrying the world in their pocket, you set your child up for a more successful transition into that world.
Embrace dumb phones. Remember the good old days when all a phone could do was call someone? Guess what? They’re still around. Dumb phones offer parents the comfort of being able to communicate with their children without the burdensome baggage of a smartphone.
Model the way. Our children see and hear everything we do, including our own use of mobile devices and engagement on social media. Be aware of the message you’re sending your children. If they see a parent absorbed in their own phone, what type of young adult do you think they will grow to be?
Create boundaries. Show children the importance of disconnecting from the digital world by enforcing times of the day when no mobile devices are allowed. For example, at dinner time, collect all phones and tablets and put them away. Be sure the adults in the household respect these boundaries as well.
Protect bedtime. Quieting the brain to enjoy a deep and restful sleep has always been challenging for teenagers. The presence of smartphones has made that challenge insurmountable. One way to combat this is to create a charging station in a common room where devices “sleep” at night. With mobile devices removed from the bedroom, adolescents can enjoy an uninterrupted night of sleep.
Post together. When we teach our kids to swim, we don’t throw them into the water and walk away. Instead, we jump in with them and teach them how to float, how to kick, and eventually, how to be self-sufficient (and safe) in the water. The same rules apply to the world of social media. Set up social media accounts together. Not only does this allow you to ensure that privacy settings are securely set, it provides the opportunity to coach your child on what is and is not appropriate to post. When you feel they have learned the lessons they need to be safe and respectful digital citizens, allow them to take control of their own accounts.
Be vigilant! Even if your teenager seems to have a grasp on how best to navigate the world of smartphones and social media, remember: they’re still teenagers. Until their prefrontal cortex is fully developed, they will be impulsive and emotional, which may lead to them making poor choices. And on the flipside, they’re surrounded by other teenagers making potentially poor choices. Look for signs that something might be wrong and provide your child a support system to help guide them to making it right.
Join us for a parent discussion on this topic on Friday, November 12th at 8:15 a.m. in the Lair Family Center. Part of this discussion will include expert advice from Lower School parent and US District Attorney Molly Gordon who has experience in litigating cases involving popular online platforms such as Roblox. We will explore and discuss points made in the book Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World, a practical, non-judgemental guide which offers smart, tech-positive advice for helping parents become a competent and confident media mentor for their child(ren).
And for even more information on the iGeneration, check out Jean M. Twenge’s iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us.