I’ll never forget this one time when we were cleaning out a closet and we stumbled across an old VHS tape rewinder. My oldest asked what it was and of course I explained. He simply could not grasp the concept that you had to have a totally separate device to rewind a movie and could not just go to a menu screen. Another time I was trying to explain dial-up internet. Again, the concept that the internet wasn’t just immediately available in the palm of his hand seemed completely foreign. I don’t share those examples to make us feel old, I share those examples to illustrate that whether we like it or not, technology is so engrained in our children’s lives these days.
In our house we’ve always been pretty pro-technology. Our children have seen both of their parents make careers out of managing technology or sharing content online. Also when we were first exploring homeschool, it was an online program that proved the best choice for us. Even so, as our oldest was entering his pre-teen and teen years, we knew he couldn’t just be completely free rein on the internet.
A few years back our oldest was saving up for a phone. That in and of itself was a good financial experience. It would have been the biggest purchase he had made. He had to learn to bypass smaller purchases for the bigger one. However, my husband and I ultimately ended up buying his phone. Here’s why: I wanted it to be clear that we control the phone. I wanted it to be clear that there would be rules around it that he would have to follow. I didn’t want to hear, “well it’s my phone you can’t take it away” or “it’s my phone I can look at what I want.”
Also around this time we were seeing a family therapist. I asked her advice on this new territory and here is what she suggested:
- Do not allow the phone or device in the child’s bedroom. It must be used in a communal area (where there are plenty of other eyes) and/or charged in the parent’s bedroom overnight.
- Decide now what ages are appropriate for which activities. For example, most social media platforms won’t let you sign up until you’re at least 13 years old. I know many families that adopt an older age for social media apps, but we did decide to allow social media once he turned 13. Whether it be social, gaming, shopping, etc – set those age parameters now as a family.
- Set a daily time limit. Screens are highly addictive and if left unchecked, a young mind could be seriously negatively effected by too much screen time and not enough real life time.
Speaking specifically about social media, I found it funny that my kiddo was largely uninterested. Especially in regards to Facebook. I set up an Instagram for him and the only other one he asked about was Snapchat. We decided not to allow Snapchat as we didn’t like that it is largely private messaging. We wanted him to have a profile somewhere that we could look at it often (as well as family members I asked to keep an eye out for us).
On this topic, I highly suggest reading the book, “Parenting Beyond The Rules” by Connie Albers. She explains that most parents react one of two ways to technology: they either allow all of it completely unmonitored, which is dangerous. Or they try and outlaw all of it, which never works. I personally know parents who think their kids aren’t online, when they totally are. Connie also explained the importance of training our kids to leave a “positive digital footprint.” It is not uncommon for colleges or even future employers to glance at social media before making an acceptance or hiring decision. One of my favorite analogies from PBTR is when she compares what a child may post online to footprints in the sand. Sure, Snapchat might wash away the footprints, but it does not wash away the content from the eyes of God. We have to teach our children this (and maybe even remind some adults of this)!
Now, when it comes to parental monitoring apps, there are a ton out there, I am sharing the two we have personal experience with:
First, Qustodio. What drew me to Qustodio was that it’s one of the only apps that will actually monitor content within other apps. Meaning if I want to block a specific topic, it will not only block it on a web browser but also on YouTube or across social media apps. We had the free version and the “small” five device plan for about $55/month. What I liked about Qustodio was the reporting. I could see down to the landing page and even the exact titles and timestamps of what videos my kiddo was watching on YouTube. At first it seemed like a little much, but it ultimately helped me trust my son more. I started to know what type of content he was drawn to online and saw that it was mostly harmless. If he did stumble onto something bad, Qustodio not only blocked it but notified me of it. We would then have a conversation about it and would both be able to move forward relatively easily. The downside to Qustodio was that it stopped working on Android devices. My son’s phone was an Android so sadly, we had to cancel Qustodio and find another solution.
Next, Google Family Link. My husband is the main one who found this solution and manages it. We have it on my son’s phone and gaming computer. The biggest thing we find it helps us with is that screen time limit that our therapist mentioned. It’s taken some practice, but ultimately he knows that when he is out of time he is out of time. Period. If that means he can’t use his phone to call for a ride, unfortunately that’s what it means. He has gotten much better and prioritizing when and how he will use his phone.
I want to caution you though. No matter what parental monitoring app you go with, it might not work. It might not work because no app will replace the need for parents to have close relationships with their kids. No app will report to you why certain content is being sought after. The only way to know your child’s motivation is to know your child. Honestly, my biggest piece of advice when it comes to technology, is to simply not rely on technology. Don’t let technology replace your role as the parent of your child.
I want to share one more resource on this topic that I’ve been enjoying: Screen Strong. I met a couple of the Screen Strong ladies at my local homeschool convention. They have so much information to help parents and even a digital detox challenge! Speaking of homeschool, next month I will give my yearly homeschool update. I will share why we are no longer using the online program that we loved for years. It will be a nice follow up to this post and is sure to make you laugh!
XO – Olivia