Timely announcement! — June 5-9th 2023 the doors to the Raising Tech-Smart Kids Mini-Course are OPEN!! It is everything you need and nothing that you don’t! — guidelines, resource list, help for video games, social media, and 2 awesome interviews! — > Visit the course page to see all that is in it!
Parenting can feel like an overwhelming task, and none of us are gonna get it all right. (I know I don’t!) I am so glad there is grace for that! However, now that my 3 oldest are “grown ups” (😭) I can look back and see that some topics really, really matter.
And technology is way up near the top of that list.
So, as we head into summer, I wanted to offer a little technology refresh. I pulled up this post which I wrote years ago, and I am updating it with with some new thoughts and suggestions. I hope and pray it will inspire some action steps, or maybe just reinforce what you’re already doing. (high fives! I know so many of you are working so hard at this!)
Find a printable checklist of these 7 steps at the end of the post.
Also: I’d be so honored if you passed this post on to friends or shared to social media.
PS I wrote this originally for parents of teens and it was primarily focused on social media. While much of this still applies to both, I have adjusted it to be helpful to parents of all kids and it is focused on all screen-related activity!
Seven steps to safer and healthier screen time this summer.
Before I begin though I want to acknowledge that this is a super challenging topic. Technology is changing at lightning speed. There is not a formula for any of this, and the minute we think we’ve got things figured out, either technology will change or our kids will. ha. So please know that I am just like you, trying to figure it out and always feeling like I could do better.
It’s never easy — the balance between where to pull kids in and where to set boundaries and where to mind our own business. I’m right here with you, scratching my head and praying and hoping I am doing it right.
But if there is one area that is worth working really hard to get it right, it is what our kids are doing online. It is so important that we have some kind of a game plan for how we are going to deal with it. As overwhelming as it can be, this is NOT the time to stick our heads in the sand.
There are of course many reasons to be aware and even strategic when it comes to kids and screens. Cyber-bullying is an issue, as is the concern for your kids’ information or photos being passed around online. That is scary stuff. Kids need to protect their reputation for the sake of future jobs and relationships, and the list goes on. (Obviously, there is more than a single post could ever cover.)
More than anything else though, I want to protect my boys from pornography. The statistics (<– click to read some) on pornography use and addiction are staggering. Pornography hurts people, ruins marriages, and destroys families. Oh and keep in mind: most pornography addictions are traced back to exposure in the early teenage years.
So it’s true: I want my boys to have a holy fear of pornography. I put it right up there with smoking crack and joining a terrorist group. Boys: Don’t. Even. Go near it.
Trust me when I say that it took a few close calls before we figured some things out. Those are stories for another time, but suffice it to say that I am just passing on to you what we have learned. And I think we’ve come up with an approach that is both cautious, and realistic.
SO, finally…here’s the list:
- Talk to your kids. Like, have an intentional conversation about summer and screens. When all my boys were home, they got used to me randomly calling out “Team meeting!” and that meant huddle up, Moms got stuff to say.
Probably even better would be for Mom and Dad together to plan a meeting — maybe after dinner one night over ice cream. Or while on a summer-kick-off picnic. The point is, let’s not do that thing where we throw out some new rules or guidelines and assume everyone gets it. Make this a real meeting that sticks.
It’s up to you what you talk about when you meet, but by the end of this list hopefully you’ll have some ideas. I suggest opening up just by addressing the issue: “Kids. Technology is a big deal. It’s a big responsibility. I know you know this, but we (Mom and Dad) have a perspective that you don’t. And you need to trust us when we say, there’s a lot of good, and a lot of potential danger just a click away on the screens we all use. We want so much to help you grow up with a healthy relationship with technology, and this summer is going to be a great time to practice. We’re gonna set some boundaries. You may not like them. We’re doing it because we love you and you’re just gonna have to trust that.”…Then take it from there.
Of course families meetings are best short and sweet (I’m reminding myself!) And you’ll adjust all of this to the ages and attention span of your kids. But by all means, talk about this like it’s a big-person topic, because it really is.
- FILTER EVERYTHING
It is so important that all devices that your kids are on have an internet filter. There are many to choose from, with various features and prices. I think there are even some decent free filters. I put off filters for a long time thinking they would be difficult to install or get in the way of everything we wanted to do. I was wrong. We eventually started using Covenant Eyes and we have been happy with them for years.
I am able to adjust setting depending on the age/maturity level of my boys and I will be notified if anyone attempts to visit a site that flags their system. I also get a weekly report of random screen shots from all devices. I think this is great because my boys know that whatever they are looking at may be reported to me. In other words, even if they’re watching innocent movies or wasting time in some other way, Mom is likely to find out.
I am sure some of you have all different ways to tracking what your kids are doing on devices and I applaud all of the effort. I simply know myself well enough to know that I’m not great at keeping up on a lot of apps and settings so a solid filter has offered me a lot of security.
HOWEVER: We all need to know that a filter alone is not enough. There is always a way around a filter and once a child is inside an app (whether it’s YouTube or Google Earth) filters are not effective. So, please do your due diligence to set parental controls, turn off apps, or whatever you need to do to make sure your child is safe. (And return to #1 — keep the conversation going!)
- Set Time Limits (for the whole family!)
We all want to help our kids reign in their screen time, but we have to start off by recognizing that we might be more addicted than our kids are. So, let’s start this one with a little self-reflection. Perhaps we adults need to pray, get accountability and set up some safe guards for our own phones and other screens. (I’m looking in the mirror as I type you guys!)
As for the kids: Unfortunately there is not a one-size fits all formula for screen time. But the amount of time kids should be on screens is probably less than we think.
Consider all of the things they can do with their time and decide how much time they really need to be on screens. You might motivate them by having them earn screen time by exercising or reading. But it will help to establish guidelines and to have regular routines and rhythms for the family to follow.
For example, kids might get an hour a day in the summer to be on screens, after they do anything else you require (reading, chores, etc.) Friday night might be family movie night. etc. If they play video games, you might set a specific time to gather with friends for that. This helps them know what to expect and will limit kids always asking for more. The hardest thing about setting rules on these things is sticking with them!
- Teach your kids about pornography and what to do when they see it.
Begin the conversations with your kids before they stumble upon pornography on their own. If they’re older and you haven’t talked about it, then this might be a good (even if awkward) topic to add to that family meeting. I most highly recommend using this book to do it: Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids
If you missed my full review of this book, then you can go back and read it here. The book is written to read with your kids, but the information is good for all ages (I learned a lot reading it.) Bottom line: Your kids WILL be exposed to bad pictures/pornographic materials, whether they are looking for it or not. Good Pictures Bad Pictures gives them a plan for what to do when they see it. Maybe most importantly: The book opens up a conversation with kids that is otherwise…really difficult to open up.
- Use a technology contract.
IF your kids have a device of any kind, I suggest you start with a technology contract. This is a simple agreement between parents and kids agreeing to how the device will (and will not) be used. There are many technology contracts available online, and I created one for my book readers that I will share with you, here
- Have a clear game plan related to your teen’s use of social media.
Social media is a complicated topic, but it is very much a part of the landscape of our teenage culture, (and our world) today. It seems like social media so quickly became normalized in our culture, yet we have to remind ourselves (and our kids) that it is still relatively new! We don’t have studies to show the long-term effects of a generation growing up using social media. I encourage families to take this one slow.
Research has shown that people (including but not only teenagers) report feeling LESS HAPPY after ten minutes on social media. Hello. That alone should give us reason to pause.
Is there potential good in social media? Sure. But it takes a very mature, secure, grounded teen to be ready to handle for all of the potential negatives, from seeing inappropriate (unfiltered) images, to the insecurity and FOMO it can trigger, and on and on.
I encourage you to do your research on any social media app your kids have or want to have. Common Sense Media is a helpful guide for this. I also highly recommend signing up for the free “Culture Translator” weekly email by Axis. This is a great way to keep up on anything new or trending in the teenage culture that we are likely to miss otherwise.
When you do allow your kids to use social media, I highly including on your technology contract the expectation that parents can look at whatever they are doing at any time. Even Direct Messages. That might seem intrusive, but remember — they are still your kids and they are learning how to navigate this stuff. Your eyes on their messages could very well save them from a massive mistake that could follow them the rest of their life. They need coaching and accountability. They need to realize what a huge responsibility it is to use social media.
- Keep Talking. Adjust everything as needed.
We circle back now and finish this list just like we started it. By communicating. It is so important to keep encouraging your kids. Let them know how much you love them. How proud you are of all the good choices they are making (look for them, Mom and Dad!) Also, if your child is proving to be responsible and respectful, you might extend some of their privileges. In fact, letting them know that you will increase their freedoms as they prove responsible will be a motivating factor for them to handle all of these things well.
My rule is that if kids bring something to me, they will never get in trouble, but if I discover something sketchy, they are sure to have consequences.
I encourage you to pray for your kids and with your kids. Remind them that none of this is a surprise to God and He placed them in this world at this time knowing they’d face these things. They don’t have to look like everyone else around them, with their face in a phone all of the time. Perhaps they are ready to rise up and be different from the culture as they pursue excellence in their growing up years. Also, when it comes to temptation, share with them:
1 Corinthians 10:13: No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
As much as possible, be your kid’s biggest cheerleader. These are tough days to be a teen, and it helps to try to imagine how you would have dealt with all of this stuff if you had it back then. (I personally cannot imagine.)
Keep in mind, I have a full chapter on technology in both of my books, Boy Mom, and Raising Amazing. I also have a page with any podcast episodes or blog posts I have written on the topic. There is a super helpful guide for video gaming over there too, as I know I didn’t get to cover that in this post.
If you have specific questions or a recommended topic for me to cover related to technology, please comment below and let me know! Again, I hope you might pass this post along to your friends as there may be no more important topic as we head into summer with our kids.
I wish you all the best as you love deeply, and parent well. It’s a huge job, but you’ll never regret a moment invested in your kids. And I’m praying that you and your kids have an amazing summer ahead!
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