How Technology Affects Our Kids – An Age-Focused Guide For Parents
If you’re a parent of a child born anytime in the last 15 years, you’ve likely seen a surge in activity along the technology lines. Your kid may very well be more tech-savvy than you, considering that they’ve grown up in a world where instant messaging, texting and general digital communication is the norm, not the exception. Email and texting have always been the ways to communicate in the minds of our children; the idea of “snail mail” is a foreign if not horrifying concept for anyone part of the younger generation. Immediate contact, images and video are part and parcel of what’s considered “normal” for our kids and, like it or not, we’ve got to adapt. Along the same lines, we as parents, still need to remain in control over what our children see and hear through digital channels. Each age range presents a unique set of concerns about how technology is used. Thankfully, with some thought and simple guidelines, parents can remain in the “digital driver’s seat” to assure that their kids get the best – not the worst – of what digital communications can offer.
Ages 5 to 8 – At this age, children’s curiosity about their world increases and the online playground continues to entice. With the realization that the digital world is their oyster, they may push for greater access to online sites and digitally-connected gadgets. Many of us have provided our kids access to our iPads and similar tablets, as well as our smartphones so they’re used to the immediate gratification of online connection. Technology in this regard is great but younger children need the guidance and protection from less-than-savory online content. For this reason, provide your child with the opportunity to use the family computer, tablet or smartphone but make sure that there are clear rules regarding usage.
1) First off, children in this age group should always be monitored when they’re online, so place the computer/laptop/tablet in a central location where you can see what your child viewing.
2) Secondly, provide parameters and times when your child can use these objects so that they know their limits. It’s perfectly fine to tell your child that they can have a certain amount of time per day, or to map out specific times during the day or week when they can indulge.
3) Finally, continue an ongoing discussion about the not only the privileges of online access but the potential dangers as well in language that they can understand.
Ages 8 to 12 – It’s all about the social life as kids enter the “tween” years. Accordingly, you may be bombarded with requests for a cell phone – if they don’t already have one – and huge text messaging bills if they do.
- Cell phone Usage – This age is often the time where kids begin to figure out interpersonal relationships and the digital world in which we live adds to the adventure. While not a wholly bad thing, there are concerns surrounding a curious tween and a mobile phone. We’ve all heard about kids racking up huge bills on their cell phones not understanding the reality of data plans and money; even worse, cell phone usage amongst this age group can lead to “bullying by text” and other concerning behaviour. As with computer and tablet use, there should be clear guidelines if you choose to provide your child with a mobile phone. If the choice to do so is primarily based on having contact with your child before and after school, etc., consider getting a pay-as-you go phone with limited time allotments and data restrictions in order to avoid misuse.
- Computer/Tablet Usage – Curiosity killed the cat, someone once said. Unfortunately young folks these days didn’t get the memo in this age where “Googling” anything and everything is standard practice. With increased independence and the opportunity to access online information both with and without parental monitoring, it’s no wonder that parents are concerned. As the ability to connect online is as simple as logging in either at home, a friend’s home or remotely, it’s especially important that parents have had conversations with their children about what’s out there in the digital world, and how to deal with it. Let’s face it – we can’t be there all the time so providing our kids with the tools required when faced with unexpected online content is more important than ever.
Ages 13 – 17 – By the time the kids reach this age, popularity and the opposite sex become more important than ever. Whether we like it or not, our children are growing into young adults and their interests will follow suit. How they pursue these interests is compounded with the availability of digital technology. We’ve all heard horror stories about bullying by text and equally worse – “sexting” – and this is the age where both become, unfortunately, more common. The latter activity – sending sexually graphic messages or pictures – has become a popular pastime of young teens that are not old enough to realize the lasting consequences of their actions. In recent times, there have been countless stories about young teens sexting images and the subsequent fallout that occurs as a result. Pictures can be quickly forwarded to numerous recipients and reputations can be forever damaged with the click of a button. If you haven’t spoken to your children about not only “the birds and the bees,” but how this sensitive subject can have lifelong consequences in an age instant messaging, now’s the time.
Ages 18+ – They’re adults now, mom and dad, and you may very well have sent them off to college or university so their digital life is their own. They’ll likely take the good advice and guidance that you’ve provided for them and use it to their best advantage as they work through school. If your kids are living at home and going to school or working, they will likely be keen on keeping up-to-date with the latest tech tools that will support their academic and social lifestyle. In this case, consider the following:
- Pay-For-Upgrades – It’s perfectly fine to ask your child to contribute to costs for the latest items on their technology wish list. It’s not uncommon for kids this age to want the latest and greatest so don’t hesitate to ask them to use some of their own money to pay for their desired items.
- Limit Usage – The 2012 version of “mom, can I borrow the car?” is “mom, can I use your laptop?” The family computer will likely have a lineup once your child reaches young adulthood. Given that the computer is the whole household, it’s perfectly fine to limit the amount of time that your grown child spends online. Doing so will make the technology more accessible for the rest of the family as well as providing incentive for your grown child to purchase their own device.
- Keep Talking – Just because they’re technically adults now doesn’t mean that the conversation about online activities and digital etiquette has to end. The reality is that we’re wading further into a world where tech is part and parcel of every part of our lives and our reliance on it will only increase, if anything. Keep the lines of communication open with your child regarding their digital and online activities and remember – mom and dad still know best, even in this technological age.
Samantha Kemp-Jackson is a writer, blogger, parenting expert and mother of four children who range in age from mid-twenties to three (the latter two being identical twin boys). The voice behind the popular parenting blog Multiple Mayhem Mamma, she focuses on topics and issues that resonate with her audience of (primarily) moms, from a lighthearted and humorous perspective.
She is a frequent media personality who discusses various aspects of parenting and provides tips and advice via regular monthly appearances on leading Ontario morning programs CH Morning Live (as part of her “Family Matters” parenting segment) and Rogers Daytime Toronto, as well as recurring regular appearances on Canada’s national morning program Canada AM. She has also been interviewed as a parenting expert on CBC’s Here and Now. Aside from her regular writings on her blog, Multiple Mayhem Mamma, Samantha is a regular featured blogger at Huffington Post Canada as well as a featured contributor at 30 Second Mom. She also regularly writes for a number of parenting-related publications including What’s Up Kids magazine and iVillage.ca. Her writing has also appeared in The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail and Parents Canada. A skilled writer, she is also a regular contributor to Technorati and has her own travel column at Chic Savvy Travels.