For about the past seven years I've been giving parent talks on cyber safety and digital citizenship. During that time, the technology has greatly changed. When I first started speaking to parents about how their children are using technology, it was about a site called MySpace and a phenomenon called texting. So much as happened since then, hasn't it?! Now days, some kids are getting smart phones in elementary school and beginning taking their first steps into the wide world of social media before they are teens. Conversations I once used to have with parents about their high school children shifted into middle school years ago and now I'm having these conversations with parents of elementary students. Although the technology has changed and the age of entry in which kids use it has gotten younger, many of the questions parents have had over the years have stayed the same:
How do I keep up?
How can I keep track of what they're doing?
How much monitoring is enough? When is it too much?
Isn't there a program that can do this for me?
Unless you pretty much block your child from all technology and Internet access, there's really not a one stop tool that takes care of parenting children today's digital age. I certainly don't believe that is they way to go. Technology is an integral part of our everyday lives. As parents, we have the opportunity to help kids learn to use it appropriately and safely while our children are with us at home in order to prepare them for a successful future as an adult. (The tips that I recommended to parents are here. I also blogged about it previously.)
Start gradually and slowly expand the freedom
after practice and success.
A colleague of mine uses this picture and the analogy of learning to ride a bike when talking to parents about how much monitoring to do with technology and their child. When learning to ride a bike, you begin with training wheels, then you're able to ride on two wheels with Mom or Dad holding onto the bike, then you graduate to no assistance. As you get better at things, you're allowed to move beyond the vicinity of your house and ride down the street, around the block, and eventually another part of town. You still check in with your parents and let them know that you're leaving, where you're going and when you'll be back. So, too, it is with letting your kids use technology. Start with the training wheels, then hold onto them as they learn on two wheels, as those are removed monitor them close by, and then eventually give them periods of time where they go off independently. Start gradually and slowly expand the freedom after practice and success.
But how much is too much?
When should the monitoring end?
How does a parent know when to step back and when to step in?
Recently a conversation with another colleague about this very topic was insightful. We were recalling how our parents never really had access to our conversations and communication with our friends unless they were in the same room with us, intercepted a note, or perhaps read a diary. I was reflecting how I would have never wanted my parents to listen to my phone calls with my friends or conversations I had in the hall or on the bus, but if I were to look at my child's phone it felt like that's just what I would be doing. So how do you balance freedom with the worry of whether or not technology is being used appropriately? Today's parent certainly has a wide array of tools available at their disposal to be much more big-brother-like in their monitoring of their children's communication and social life. My colleague said,
"Let their behavior warrant the intervention."
I thought this was a great piece of advice. Basically, she and her husband look for any changes in their child's behavior to determine whether or not any intervention is necessary, including technology use and monitoring. They watch for things such as changes in their child's grades, personality, friends, demeanor, and interactions they have with her. When they see something change, then they decide whether or not they need to look at the child's phone and monitor social media more closely. They continue to have frequent conversations about their expectations for how their child uses technology, what's appropriate and inappropriate, and what the consequences are for not adhering to these expectations.
What do you think? What has worked well for you? What advice would you share?