Parenting in the age of electronic devices is new and uncharted territory for many of us. Our teen-aged daughters saved their money and paid for half the cost of their iPad Minis a few years ago. Because owning devices was new at the time, I was naïve as to what could go wrong or what parameters I should set up.
After the fact it was very difficult to backtrack and take away electronic privileges. If I could do it again, I would set up the following standards and constraints from the very beginning.
- Establish dual ownership. When our girls got their devices, we didn’t really set up expectations of when we could access them or how we could monitor the way they used them. When we finally recognized that we needed access to the devices, the girls were very resistant and protective. We should have explained from the beginning that we have part ownership of the devices and that our supervision would continue until they are adults.
- Have “break” times. During the first few months that our girls had their devices, we began to see that if they had spare time or were bored, they automatically went to their devices. We quickly realized that we needed to impose a break time to help them engage with the family more and find other ways to entertain themselves. We started taking their devices for an hour once a week, and we soon saw the benefits of this. The break helped them to understand the pull the device has on them and let them see the real world for a while.
- Sequester devices when guests come over. I had an epiphany about this during our family reunion this summer. The girls were excited to see their cousins and aunts and uncles, but they wanted their devices right next to them. If a conversation was boring to them, they would check their updates. I realized that if we all put our devices away while we were spending time with family or friends, we could avoid the temptation to check them. One way to do this is to put everyone’s phones (including adults’!) into a basket. I want my girls to be in the habit of focusing on people instead of their electronics. One side note: I wouldn’t necessarily make this rule for when their friends come over—devices are a big part of friendships these days.
- Think through and approve each app. Just because a certain app comes on the device doesn’t mean it has my approval. I found out that many of the pre-loaded apps can be removed. I set up their devices so I had an alert when they downloaded any new app. This makes it so I can examine what apps the girls are using and approve of any future apps. Different parents will have different ideas regarding which apps are appropriate, but it’s much easier to prohibit an app before teens start using it.
- Keep an eye on whom they follow on social media. This one really took me by surprise. I learned it is essential that I know which accounts my girls follow not only because of possibly inappropriate content, but also because of the frequency of the posts from certain groups. For instance, my older daughter is interested in human rights, but some groups she followed post 3–4 times a day, overwhelming her with propaganda and sometimes disturbing images.
Another instance where I realized I needed to pay closer attention came when I found out that my daughter was following a popular fashion magazine on Instagram, seeing and learning some inappropriate things. I have very strong feelings about the dangers of fashion magazines (air brushing, body image distortion, adult content, etc.) and the possible effects on my daughters. It dawned on me that through Instagram and similar social media, you can have access to any magazine, group, or product imaginable. I needed to be aware of which ones my daughter was subscribing to. I definitely control what print media comes in my home, but I was not controlling the digital media reaching my daughters.
- Limit how many people or groups they can follow. Reviewing my daughters’ apps also showed me that the more people (or groups) they follow, the longer it takes them to “keep up” with everyone. It takes a lot longer to go through your feed if you follow 100 accounts rather than 50. I put a limit on how many they were allowed to follow, thus decreasing the time it would take them to stay up-to-date. This is much harder to do after the fact, asking them to give up some of the accounts they already like.
Over the years I have learned a lot about monitoring my children’s use of devices. If I had set up the necessary parameters early on we could have avoided some frustrations and problems. Preemptive strategies like these are what deliberate motherhood is all about. Instead of letting the tides of social trends and technology control us, we can decide upfront if and how we will participate.
QUESTION: What restrictions have you implemented with your teens’ device use and how have your teens responded?
CHALLENGE: Go through your child’s Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook account to review who they are following.
Edited by Sarah Monson & Becky Fawcett.
Image from Shutterstock; graphics by Julie Finlayson.