As if parents don’t have enough to worry about.
With today’s technology, we face a new set of challenges. From managing cell phones (and that ever creeping bill) to understanding how best to set limits on the use of video games and iPads, technology creates a whole new set of issues to manage between parents and kids.
Speaker Brian Housman has wrestled with these issues, too. Housman, a writer and speaker on parenting teens and the executive director of 360 Family Conference, has two teenagers of his own at home. When he wanted help navigating the digital world, he found too few books aimed at reaching out to parents. That’s when he decided to research and write something himself. Housman’s book, Tech Savvy Parenting (Randall House), is a practical, easy-to-read manual that deals with everything from deciding when your child should have a cell phone or Facebook account, to keeping up with teens who post images on Instagram and Vine. Inside these pages, you’ll find answers to a host of questions around privacy, usage, safety, and more.
We sat down with Housman to discuss some best practices.
Monitor your child’s use of the computer. Many parents consider the privacy issue around monitoring their child’s cell phone or computer use. You want to trust that your child will make good choices but they can’t without guidelines from you. Housman believes kids need boundaries as well as monitoring. Don’t be shy about using blocking software to keep kids safe. Decide how much time per day a child can be online and stick to it.
Know your children’s computer and social media passwords. Let them know you’ll be looking in on their online life occasionally. “Kids must have a personal life, but you do want accountability,” says Housman. “I told my kids when their accounts were set up that I wanted their passwords. I won’t snoop but I do want accountability.”
First, have your child or teen keep you current on the social media sites he frequents. Have him give you a list, along with the passwords he uses, for each site or app. Then periodically log on but keep visits brief. One thing kids overlook is that others can tag them in photos that may be less than flattering. Instagram is one social media app that does not allow users to untag themselves from an image. Instead, you must ask the person who posted the picture to untag you.
When Housman has encountered this issue, he’s used it as a teaching moment. He points out that people can draw conclusions from the company we keep, and misinterpret images. That can present problems as kids gear up for college, since admissions offices frequently look online to gain insights on prospective students.
Housman uses the sleepovers analogy; it’s customary for you, as a parent, to come into the child’s room and let him and his friends know that you’re around and will be keeping an eye on things. Do the same thing online.
Talk about your child’s digital footprint. By now, most parents are aware of the online world and the ways in which the personal information we share resides forever on the web. But since our children are newbies, it is important they begin to understand this, too. Let them know that each site they visit “remembers” their computer, which can sometimes bring unwanted links. Let your kid know you’re available when they want to go on new sites. Check them out first.
Be aware of the prevalence of porn. Ninety-eight percent of adult-oriented sites require no age verification, says Housman. And porn has become “the biggest cultural issue we don’t want to talk about — in society or the church.” On average, most boys discover a porn site (usually by accident) by age 10 or 11. If this happens, talk to your child about your views on sexuality based on mutual respect. Consider installing software that will keep unwanted sites away. Be aware, too, that YouTube often has unsavory videos. While the service posts 2 million new videos a day, only 10,000 are pulled for inappropriate images.
Consider the endgame of technology and kids. The idea is not to punish, says Housman, but to equip your child to make good choices. “You have to live with the reality that you can’t control your kids when they aren’t in your presence.” Helping your child by having these conversations is a start.
Brian Housman’s book Tech Savvy Parenting is available at amazon.com and locally at The Books at Laurelwood.