Principals and soapboxes go together. We often find ourselves doing what we can to help kids make good decisions up front, rather than from making a mistake and receiving consequences. Sure. Sure. Sure. There are plenty of things that must be learned through trial and error, and I stand heartily behind this tried-and-true method. I even have an arsenal of stories to back up my embarrassingly slow learning curve as a young person (maybe as an adult too?!). That said, I do believe that the soapbox has its place, so today I would like to climb up there and share a few thoughts, this time with parents, about iPhones, iPads, computers, and social media. Don’t worry. You’ve heard it all before at Colorado Academy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t something important to think about again, and again, and again.
Keep it simple:
The best messages are short and simple. So here goes:
Delay, delay, delay
Remind, remind, remind
Delay, delay, delay
Each family gets to make its own rules about phone and technology use. That is YOUR turf. The decisions you make, however, have real-world consequences for your kids. Some of you have heard me say this before: If I were given the chance to “reparent” my kids, I would be even stricter than I was regarding tech access at home, gaming, and when they had access to a phone. I intentionally say “have access” because we did not give our children a phone. We loaned it to them, as it was wholly owned by us, with the full knowledge that at any moment the loan could be rescinded. We also did not let them have a phone until Ninth Grade. Yes. This led to our kids “missing out” on some things. It also led to them having a bit more maturity when they finally had access to the wonder and mischief that a cell phone affords. When you make the choice to delay access, you will feel (and be reminded by your child) that you are the ONLY mean parent who is not providing a phone. You are not.
The research is IN. Teen phone use (texting, chat, gaming, etc.) is associated with a host of negatives:
Higher incidence of depression
Lower self esteem
Less positive body image
And the list goes on
Given what the current research suggests, unfettered access to a cell phone before being ready for one is analogous to actively shopping for a defective car seat or recalled crib, things we would never willingly do.
This is a classic for parents to juggle, as it hits the safety vs. privacy conundrum dead center. For some parents, developing responsibility triumphs, and for others, being sure the child is safe and does the right thing wins the day. We all by necessity land somewhere on this continuum, and we are usually well-defended about the choice we make. My suggestion, once the child is deemed mature enough to have a phone, is to put the responsibility on your child to make good decisions and then to actively monitor the choices your child is making. The short form of this policy is “trust, but verify.” The verify portion can be as simple as every week taking the phone and checking use. You may also want to be very active in ensuring that certain apps are not allowed on the phone. Any app that allows for anonymous texting or sharing is a straight NO. Nothing good happens after 11 p.m., and nothing good comes when adolescence and anonymity mix. Similarly, any app that “disappears” the information shared is begging for misuse.
In life, most things taken in excess don’t turn out well. This is true for food, drink, work, even exercise. It is also true for technology use. Setting use guidelines at home will likely help your child. Creating “no tech” times of day is highly recommended, as is having a “storage and recharging” spot in your home where tech (phones, iPads, and computers) live when they are not in use. This location should be a difficult-to-access spot that only you manage. (It is simply too tempting when a child can’t get to sleep to seek refuge with one form of technology or another.) You may also want to consider “crashing” the Wi-Fi in your house at a certain time each evening. They have come a long way with this technology, and it may ensure that there is a truly technology-free time in your home.
Remind, remind, remind
There is a fine line between nagging and reminding. On safe and healthy use of technology, I encourage you to be closer to the “nagging” end of the spectrum. There are few areas of a child’s life, outside of drug and alcohol use, that can get a child in more trouble or be used to hurt others more easily than social media. In my experience, great kids can make lousy decisions online; it’s almost as if logging on to social media logs off their moral compass. In this sense, this is an area of a child’s life that demands great clarity and important instruction. Kids benefit from knowing where you stand on KIND use of chat, text, and other social media. If you haven’t reminded your son or daughter since the beginning of school, NOW is the time to have another conversation. Your kids have evolved since August. What might not have been tempting to explore previously, now may be. Helping your kids make good decisions using technology is a great arena for sharing with your kids who you are as a person and what your values are as a family. Your child might not appear to welcome the conversation, might even bemoan it, but it is important work you are doing.
Yes, yes, I know…
These are of course your decisions, but as I suggested in the beginning, I’m on my soapbox and putting it all out there. By all means, make the decisions that you think are right for your family. AND, yes, I am very aware of all the wonderful ways that technology can be used educationally and for GOOD in this world. It is why CA believes in the iPad as an educational tool for learning. I hope, though, that home and school do all that we can to help kids make good decisions and grow up to be thoughtful members of our community.