Our Technology Rules

Being a parent today is a hard job. We are busy cooking, cleaning, taking kids to sports/dance practice and coordinating everyone’s schedules! This can be exhausting!  At times we forget how impressionable kids are. The role model that we set for our own kids is important when it comes to healthy eating, spending money responsibility, being respectful to others, holding good morals and beliefs, and so much more. We can easily forget that we are also a role model when it comes to using our electronic devices. We need to think about how much our kids see us “playing” on our smartphone or tablet. We think it is so cute when our kids take after us and play a sport that we played or find enjoyment in taking walks or doing yoga. It is not so cute if our kids check a text message or Facebook notification while driving.

We need to remember that they are like sponges and are taking in everything in their environment. It is our responsibility to teach them responsibility when it comes to technology as well. I wanted to share with you some of our house rules that have been put into place because of the technologies of today. I have an 8-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter and I want to teach them to be safe with technology. This is not something that I learned from my parents or grandparents, because tablets, smartphones, and the Internet where not around back then. When we were ready to introduce our kids to technology (about 3 years ago) for Christmas we had to decide what the rules and boundaries for using technology in our house. So, that Christmas morning after the excitement abated, we sat the kids down and reviewed the rules that we developed:

  1. We identified it as the “family iPad.” In a world of everyone having their own device, we felt it was important to make it clear that this device belonged to the family and it was not “owned” by either of the kids. When a digital device is titled to an individual, it can make it feel, to the child, that they have more rights to it than others. We felt that this device was too powerful (and expensive) of a tool for a child to have sole ownership of. When it’s the “family iPad,” it becomes a community device to be used and respected as such. There is no feeling of personal privacy to this family device.
  2. We outlined the expectations that before the device will be available to use, they must complete chores and school work first.
  3. We set expectations around how much time they will be able to use it per day. They are able to play approved games for 15 minutes. They set the timer on the iPad before they start playing. Once their time is done, they are done for the day. If they would like to play more, then they must use an educational app (Math, Spelling etc) for 15 minutes. If they choose to play an educational app, then they have earned another 15 minutes to play a game after the educational app. Results: Over the past 3 years, our kids usually play the first 15 minutes daily and then go outside and play. Rarely do they ask to play an educational game and another game after. The most the Family iPad is played in our home is 15 minutes per kid per day.
  4. We have the Wi-Fi password. Our kids have no need for the Wi-Fi password.
  5. We have the App Store password.
  6. We must approve any apps before they are downloaded and they must fit the age range identified in the App Store. Caveat: Our starting point is the age rating attached to the app. We do not consider lying about age for our child to use an app. We teach our kids not to lie. Allowing them to lie about their age for an app is bending that rule. We also learn about the content on the app and see if it’s age appropriate.Example: TikTok has an age rating (as of the date of this writing) of 12+. Here is the content disclosed by the App Store that is defined as appropriate for a 12 year old:“Rated 12+ for the following:
    Infrequent/Mild Profanity or Crude Humor
    Infrequent/Mild Cartoon or Fantasy Violence
    Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References
    Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content and Nudity
    Infrequent/Mild Mature/Suggestive Themes”

    This content is not acceptable for my kids when they reach 12 years old. We use the app age as a guideline, not as the final decision.

  7. The kids are permitted to iMessage myself, their dad, the babysitter and a family friend. They have to ask to message someone and tell us what they would like to message, example: they were excited to message the babysitter about our new puppy, as we are trying to teach them to be reasonable with messaging.
  8. The iPad must stay in an area where we can be with the kids. The iPad is not permitted in the bedrooms. This has two goals:
    A) It deters potential misuse
    B) It sets the standard for not being permitted to keep phones in their room when they do eventually get phones.
  9. The iPad is not connected to any form of Wi-Fi when we take it on the road. We don’t use it to stream movies in the car or on vacation. They are permitted to use non-connected games on the iPad for 15 minutes in the car. Otherwise, we use old school car games and vacation fun to occupy our time outside of our home.

Since our kids have been using the family iPad, we have had many opportunities to teach them about online safety and privacy, explain to them what a hacker is, and help them develop an understanding of how the Internet works.  We have talked to them about things that they might innocently stumble upon while online and how it is important to talk to us when these things occur. We have set the privacy settings, used parental controls, and set pins on other technology such as the Netflix account. Our kids are young and we need to protect them from accidentally stumbling upon concerning content.

We also talk to them about the external pressures around getting a cell phone at an early age. Many of the students in their grades have “their own phone.” Our kids sometimes say that they want a smartphone because “everyone has one.” We don’t want our kids to feel like they don’t fit it, but also just because “everyone else” has one doesn’t mean that we are alright with them having a smartphone at this young age.

This open communication with our kids about their online world has been so beneficial.  Our current house rule is that we will not even consider a cell phone until they are 13 years old. There will be requirements that they will have to meet before we would consider a smartphone. Many of our expectations are outlined in the Technology Contract and the Plan Before You Post Pledge that we will use with our kids when the time comes.  As the time gets closer, we will define what that means for them, but as for now we want our kids to be smart digital citizens and that is not going to happen without us as parents being good role models by setting rules and boundaries around electronic devices.

Sherri Klingensmith, LPC, NCC