Every other day, my kids come home from school talking about the Next New Thing in technology:
“His dad got a smartphone, and it has this cool app!“
“Their mom got a tablet, and she lets them play on this awesome website!“
“This game system does this…that game system does that!”
The ever-changing technological landscape is one of the greatest challenges modern parents face. The number of decisions we have to make about our kids’ access to devices and social media is staggering, and it changes so fast it sets our heads spinning. Just when we think we have a handle on our kids’ relationship to technology, some new device comes along. Every time something new comes up, we have to reevaluate what works and doesn’t work for our family, and for each of our kids as individuals.
When our son became obsessive about playing iPad games last year, we learned a hard lesson about the importance of being proactive and strategic about devices and technology. And the thing is, it happened all of a sudden, and completely by accident. We didn’t give our son a tablet of his own; we weren’t trying to introduce something new—it just . . . happened. My husband got an iPad for his birthday, and one day he played a game of Plants Vs. Zombies with our son. And before we could say, “The zombies ate your brains!”, we had a problem: Within a matter of weeks, our son had become a zombie! These 26 questions were born out of our family’s quest to bring our son back from the land of the Walking Dead, take charge of technology in our family (instead of the other way around!), and establish the kind of family atmosphere we wanted to have.
Here are 26 questions every parent should consider about technology use in your family, including smartphones and cell phones, mp3 players, handheld games, video game systems, tablets, laptops, and computers. (If you’re married, you’ll want to discuss these questions with your spouse to make sure both spouses are on the same page.) The first 13 are questions to ask about the devices and technology your family already uses. The second 13 are questions to ask before you introduce a new device to your family.
13 questions to ask about devices and technologies you have already introduced:
1. Has this technology brought our family closer together, or pushed us apart?
2. Do we have clear guidelines in place?
3. How does this game/phone/computer/tablet benefit our family?
4. Has the way we use this device changed or harmed our family in some way?
5. Can our child disengage easily from using this device?
6. Has this device changed our child’s behavior, personality, or mood in any way?
7. Has our child lost interest in other activities or relationships since we introduced it?
8. Can our child entertain himself/herself without this technology . . . in their free time? at a restaurant? in a waiting room? while riding in a car?
9. Have we set up age-appropriate parental controls and blocks on this device?
10. Does our child understand and respect the parents’ obligation to monitor the device, and respect our right to take it away if need be?
11. Does our child view usage of this device as a privilege, or a right?
12. How does our child respond if we tell them to put the device away, or if we limit their time?
13. How would our family change if we took away this device altogether?
13 questions to ask yourself before you introduce a new device:
Before you introduce a new device to your family, or—and this is the one we forget to think about—before you buy yourself a new device that your children will have regular access to, ask yourself these questions:
1. Why are we introducing this device? What is its purpose?
2. Is it age-appropriate for our children? Is it age-appropriate for some of our children, and not others? How will we handle that discrepancy?
3. Can our kids handle this device/game mentally and emotionally?
4. Do we have a child who tends to be obsessive about games? If so, are we prepared to monitor their behavior and mood and usage to the extent they will need? Are we willing to do this long-term? Are we willing to reevaluate how our child is handling this game/device/technology at different points, and adjust our parameters and guidelines as needed?
5. What guidelines do we need to put in place before we introduce this technology?
6. What conversations does our family need to have before we introduce this technology? What does our child need to understand about himself/herself before we put this device in their hands? What do they need to agree to before we put this device in their hands?
7. How will we know if things are not going well? What will we do if this device is not having a positive effect on our child or on our family?
8. Does one parent have misgivings or strong feelings against introducing this technology? Have both perspectives been fully heard?
9. What days and times is it okay and not okay to use this device? What places is it okay and not okay to use this device? Is it okay to use this device when friends or family come over to visit?
10. How much time are kids allowed to spend on this device each day/each week?
11. How will we track our child’s time on this device?
12. How will we monitor our child’s behavior on this device (websites they have visited, pictures they have taken and posted, messages they have sent to friends, new friends they have added to social networks)?
13. Are we willing to get rid of this device if it harms our child or our family in some way? Does our child accept our right and responsibility to make this decision?
As you make decisions about your family’s relationship to technology, remember these five principles:
Be an example. (Parents’ habits with phones, computers, and devices will influence our children more than anything we say.)
Be intentional. (Think. Engage. Discuss. Plan. Monitor. Adjust. Don’t let your family’s relationship with technology “just happen.”)
Be proactive. (Anticipate issues. Have discussions and set expectations ahead of time.)
Be flexible. (Adjust as the technology changes, and as kids change.)